Tag Archives: Religion

Are Christians Arrogant for Believing They Are Right?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most common accusations hurled at Christians is arrogance.  If Christians believe that only they are right about who God is, that is arrogant.

Usually, but not always, I hear this accusation from atheists.  They say something like, “If you think that the Christian God is the only true God, then you are excluding the rest of world who believe in other gods.  You are also excluding those who don’t believe in any god.  That betrays an incredible arrogance and narrow-mindedness.”

Typically these kinds of statements put Christians on the defensive and a few of us, unfortunately, will even claim that all religious concepts of God are basically the same so as not to seem narrow-minded.  After all, who wants to be seen as arrogant?

But there’s a problem with this accusation, especially for atheists.  Most religion surveys indicate that there are about 2 billion Christians in the world, which is about 1/3 of the world’s population.  That means that about 4 billion people don’t believe in the Christian God, or 66% of the world.

If we look at the number of atheists, those who deny that any kind of god exists, it’s probably around 150 million people, or 2.5% of the world population (see this link for data).  Even if we double that number, we get 300 million people.  That means that approximately 5.7 billion people are wrong about the existence of god, or 95% of all the people living in the world.

Now who is calling who arrogant?  If anybody is exclusive, if anybody is narrow-minded, it is atheists far more so than Christians.  As an atheist, you have to believe that 95% of all people alive are wrong about the existence of a higher power, a god or gods.  In fact, if numbers are how we determine arrogance, Christians are the least arrogant of any religious group because they have the most adherents!

Do I really believe atheists are arrogant for saying that no gods exist, a belief that contradicts 95% of the rest of the world?  No, of course not.  Truth claims are narrow, by definition, because they rule out falsehoods.  Numbers don’t determine truth, and it’s certainly possible that atheists are right, despite their relatively small numbers.  But that means that the accusation that Christians are arrogant also needs to be put to rest.  The atheist claiming that Christians are arrogant is sawing off the limb he is sitting on.

Let’s drop these silly accusations of arrogance and get back to reasonable and rational discussions about the existence or non-existence of God.  Can I get an atheist “Amen?”

Avatar: An Apologetic for Pantheism

Post Author: Bill Pratt

About a month ago, columnist Russ Douthat wrote a brilliant column about pantheism, the religion of Hollywood.  Pantheism is the belief that the world is God and God is the world.  The pantheist God is not personal, but is Nature itself.

Douthat notes that this view of God has been popular with Hollywood for many years.

It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

James Cameron’s wildly popular Avatar revisits pantheism with its portrayal of the nature-worshiping Na’Vi, a race of people who pay homage to Eywa, the “All Mother.”

Why is pantheism so popular with Hollywood?  One reason is that there is no personal God making moral demands.  Nature doesn’t tell you what to do; it just is.  As Douthat explains, “For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.”  C. S. Lewis once described pantheism as “all the thrills of religion and none of the cost.”

Douthat, however, questions whether nature deserves a religious response:

Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

He continues, “Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms.”

This is what has struck me about pantheism.  None of its adherents really take it to its logical conclusion.  In practice, we all believe in good and evil.  We all think that death is bad and that life is good, but these positions are incoherent under pantheism, because death is just part of the natural cycle.  There is nothing bad about it, under pantheism.

Ironically, even James Cameron couldn’t go all the way.  In a scene just before the final climactic battle between the rapacious earthlings and the peaceful Na’Vi, the turncoat human hero prays to the “All Mother” that she would give victory to the Na’Vi over the humans.  As he concludes his prayer, his Na’Vi companion tells him that the “All Mother” does not take sides, a classic pantheistic position.

Cameron, of course, cannot follow through.  (Caution: if you have not seen the movie, what follows is a spoiler!!)

As the humans are about to win the battle, the “All Mother” joins the fray in the form of the indigenous animals of the planet.  The animals attack the humans and help the Na’Vi to victory.  The “All Mother” doesn’t take sides?  Evidently she does, and with a vengeance.

Cameron understands good and evil like anyone else and he must ultimately override Nature in his movie, providing a great illustration of the practical unreality of pantheism.

What Does the "Coexist" Bumper Sticker Mean?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I’m sure you’ve seen these bumper stickers, the ones that say “Coexist” with the letters being formed by the symbols of various world religions.  My problem is that I don’t know what message this sticker is trying to convey.  I’ve come up with the following possibilities:

  1. All religions are equally true.
  2. We should all try to get along.
  3. Peace is a good thing.
  4. Wars between religious groups should stop.
  5. Love your neighbor, regardless of their religious affiliation.

These are about all I could come up with.  So, in order to get to the bottom of this mystery, I invite you to vote on these 5 choices.  Vote on the option you think conveys the message most correctly.  Maybe you have one of these stickers on your car or know someone who does.  If so, you have an advantage, because I don’t personally know anybody that has one.

I will also give you the option to vote for “other” in case you think all of my options are wrong.  If you do vote for “other” make sure you leave a comment as to what “other” means.

Can All Religions Be True?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you actually know anything substantive about major world religions, you know the answer to this question is an emphatic “no.”

The only people claiming that all religions are the same or that all religions are equally true are those people who know little to nothing about world religions, or who are unable to do a little bit of critical thinking.

The major religions of the world profess profoundly different views of the nature of God, the nature of man, the afterlife, the source of evil, and a host of other weighty topics.  It is true that the ethical teachings contained in major religions have some commonality, but ethics are but one portion of what constitutes a religion’s core beliefs.

If you are a Christian, then you believe that Jesus is the third person of the Triune God.  No other major world religion recognizes Jesus as God in this sense, so clearly somebody is wrong!  We can’t all be right because Jesus can’t both be God and not God at the same time and in the same sense.

If  Christians are right about Jesus being God, then other religions who deny this fact are wrong about who God is.  They get God wrong, in other words.  I would say that is a serious error which dramatically undermines the claim that all religions are true.

Can Science Answer the Most Important Questions of Life?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Have you ever noticed that the most important questions in life cannot be conclusively answered by the scientific method of empirical observation and experimentation?

We can use science to study the weather, to create wireless communication, to study the respiratory systems of whales, to better see the stars, to learn about soil erosion, to build skyscrapers, and to fly aircraft.

All of these subjects yield themselves to scientific investigation such that mankind can eventually come to know these areas in extraordinary detail and precision.  We just continue collecting data, analyzing data, and testing hypotheses – over and over again until we finally understand.

These subjects are all wonderful, in and of themselves, but they aren’t what’s truly important.  What about God, love, friendship, morality, heaven and hell, human consciousness, the meaning of life, the origin of the universe?  These are the questions that strike us in the middle of the night when a loved one is in the ICU at the hospital, or when we witness the birth of a child, or when we suffer financial ruin, or when we contemplate marrying the person we love, or when we just have some peace and quiet and can immerse ourselves in deep thought.

None of these questions ultimately lend themselves to the scientific method, but they are the most important questions.

My family loves the silly movie Nacho Libre.  In the movie, one of the characters is asked if he believes in God, and he answers, “I don’t believe in God.  I believe in science.”

It is fitting that the movie is a comedy because this response is truly comical.  The person who believes in only science is fundamentally punting on all the major questions of life.  They are saying, in effect, “We are going to limit ourselves to the lesser things of life, the things we can know with a high degree of scientific certainty.”

It’s comical, but it’s also sad.  What impoverished existence – cutting off oneself from the only things that ultimately matter.

Is God a Crutch?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Critics of Christianity and of religion, in general, like to take a page from Sigmund Freud and accuse believers of forming their beliefs for purely psychological reasons.  Freud held that believers are projecting their need for a father figure on God.  God is merely a psychological projection of the ideal father.  God, in other words, is just a crutch for those who can’t face the difficulties of life.  Larry King once asked a Christian pastor if Christianity was a crutch, and the pastor replied, “No, I see it as more of a hospital.  We are all in serious condition and desperately need help!”

Are there psychological reasons for belief in God?  Of course there are.  There are psychological reasons for everything we do and everything we believe, but this fact has nothing to say about whether God really exists.  That, my friends, is an entirely different question.

I may very much want to believe that my wife loves me, for psychological reasons, but does the fact that I have this need prove my wife does not love me?  No.  It just doesn’t follow.  Likewise, I may yearn for a heavenly father, but does my yearning prove he doesn’t exist.  Obviously not.

Christians may have their psychological reasons for wanting God to exist, but atheists have their psychological reasons for wanting God to not exist.  According to Paul Vitz, a psychologist who has extensively studied the psychology of atheism, many atheists don’t believe in God because they have unresolved hatred for their earthly father figure.  I have seen this in my friends who are atheists.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland recounts his experience: “I have spoken on more than 200 college campuses and in more than 40 states in the last 40 years, and it has become apparent to me that atheists regularly have deep-seated, unresolved emotional conflicts with their father figures.”

Moreland continues to explain a second psychological reason for atheism.  “People want to be liberated from traditional morality so they can engage in any sexual behavior that satisfies them without guilt, shame, or condemnation.”  If you are a person who is engaged in all sorts of illicit sexual activity, it is absolutely in your interest to reject God.  A few atheists that have visited this blog have admitted that they enjoy sexual pursuits that Christians would find objectionable.  They argue that what they are doing is harmless, and that any religion which tells them the opposite cannot be true.

There are undoubtedly other reasons for denying God’s existence, but the point is that atheists, like believers, have psychological motives.  We all do.

What do we do with this information?  Well, first of all, we should all look within ourselves and reflect on what our motivations are.  Let’s face them and not deny them.

But let’s all remember that at the end of the day, all of these psychological reasons are not ultimately why we should believe or disbelieve.  Our view of God should be based on solid, rational arguments.  We should all know why we believe what we believe and we should stop accusing those who disagree with us of being completely irrational.  It gets us nowhere.

Debating psychology will never determine whether God exists or not, or whether Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  Psychology can only tell us some of the motives for our beliefs.  While that is interesting, it is not the most important question.

More Strange Tales from the World of Scientology

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I remember the first time I heard of Scientology was in the early 1990’s when I was in Atlanta attending GA Tech.  They ran one of those personality assessment offices in Atlanta and I was curious about who they were.

Then I started doing some reading and discovered some very disturbing things about the “religion” of Scientology.  Over the years, the news about Scientology has progressively become weirder and weirder.  Two days ago this article was published in the St. Petersburg Times.  Read it to see what this cult is like.

Should We Read the Bible Literally?

Post Author:  Bill Pratt

My seminary professor, Norm Geisler, used to say, “Everything the Bible affirms is literally true, but not true, literally.”  What he meant by this is that we cannot read the Bible in a wooden, “literal” way when it is clearly using figurative language.

A good Catholic friend of mine once asked me how I interpreted Bible passages.  I answered, “I try to understand what the author’s intended meaning was in the historical context in which he wrote.”  She answered, “Oh, well that’s exactly how I interpret the Bible.  I thought that evangelicals interpreted everything literally.”

Clearly we have a failure to communicate!  There seem to be at least two ways that the word literal is used.  First, literal can mean interpreting language in a way that does not allow for any symbolism or figures of speech.  If someone said, “I have traveled to the four corners of the earth,” a literalist in this sense would assume that the earth must be a flat, four sided shape, and that I actually did travel to each corner of this geometric shape.

Second, literal can mean interpreting language in the exact way it was intended by the author without unduly introducing symbolism or figurative language where it was never intended.  This is what most evangelicals mean when we say that you should interpret the Bible “literally.”  We do not mean that there is no use of figurative language in the Bible.  There obviously is.  As Bill Foster says in his book, Meet the Skeptic, “Informed Christians recognize that the Bible is full of literary devices and figurative language such as metaphor, simile, metonymy, typology, allegory, personification, and so forth.”

The reason conservative Christians tend to emphasize reading the Bible literally is because some readers do tend to interpret passages in the Bible that seem to be written in a non-figurative way as figurative.  There are those that claim that the resurrection of Jesus should be taken figuratively, for example.  Traditional Christians point out that the authors of the New Testament clearly meant the resurrection accounts to be taken literally, not figuratively.  Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead in a physical body.

So, yes, we should read the Bible literally, as long as we agree on what literal means.