Yesterday, we began to tackle objections that Christianity is not good for our culture or for individuals. We saw that the claim by moral relativists or moral subjectivists that there is no truth or, if there is, we cannot know it, collapses in on itself because that is a truth claim. In fact, many relativists feel embarrassed when they realize in a debate that marshal an array of facts, truth and knowledge to try to argue that there is no such thing as facts, truth or knowledge!
Yet, when pushed, many relativists reluctantly admit there is truth (e.g., the earth revolves around the sun) and that pushing morality on others is not always a bad thing (e.g., ending the practice of suttee, or burning the wife alive at the funeral of the husband, in India thanks in large part to Christian missionary William Carey or intervening in the tribal wars in the Sudan, etc.). But they contend that when so many intelligent people disagree about religion and/or certain moral practices that it is arrogant to claim to hold THE truth in any of these areas.
Philosopher Paul Copan responds, “But disagreement does not necessarily imply relativism in any area. It may simply indicate that some—or all concerned—don’t have full knowledge, a clear or sufficient grasp of the issue at hand.” (See his book True for You But Not For Me).
Indeed many of even the most well-educated have a very shaky grasp on basic logic and the teachings of various world religions (to see how poorly many of the world’s leading academics fair when they step outside of their own area of expertise, see Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society). Moreover, there is a great deal of peer pressure within our culture to relativize religion and ethics and we will deal with the reasons for this and how to respond later. But none on these problems eliminate the possibility of truth or our ability to know it.
Copan reminds us that we live in a culture where (1) persuasion is prohibited; (2) to be exclusive is to be arrogant and (3) tolerance is a cardinal virtue. Thus, Christianity is viewed as dangerous but, ironically, Copan points out that the proponents of this view violate their own standard because they (1) they demand agreement; (2) they make exclusive claims; which, (3) renders them intolerant! Thus, once again, their argument fails by their own standards.
Copan goes on to write that the goal of the Christian apologist is to help others see: (1) truth is inescapable (see previous posts); (2) the existence of God offers clearer answers than naturalism or pluralism; and (3) Christianity is more plausible than Judaism or Islam.
But, once again, we need to do so with grace, which is why I champion the Columbo Method of gently asking questions of skeptics to begin our conversation.
Let’s practice the Columbo Method in helping people move to embrace the fact that truth is simply inescapable using the three questions– “What do you mean by that?”, “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” and, eventually, “Have you considered…?”. It might look something like this:
“What do you mean it is arrogant to say we can’t know truth?”
“How did you come to believe it is true that we can’t know truth?”
“Have you ever considered that disagreement does not mean we can’t know just that we may not have all the information we need.”
Another of the recent criticisms of Christianity is that because the faith requires particular beliefs in order to be members of its community it is socially divisive. Communities should be open to all. This was the basis of the UC-Hastings v. Christian Legal Society Case to which we will turn tomorrow.
Until then, grace and peace.