Timothy Keller begins by presenting the time honored arguments against the nature of God and Christians in particular – intolerance and exclusivity. And he lays out his response to each of the attempts made by cultural and political leaders to rid the world of the religious binds that they blame for the issues we face today: 1) outlaw religion 2) condemn religion and 3) privatize religion.
Argument 1 – If society could outlaw religion, we would rid ourselves of the divisiveness caused by differing religions – intolerance and violence would disappear. But experimental attempts to outlaw religion in societies has instead created more violence and more intolerance. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, Communist China, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany are all examples of the utter failure of the efforts to remove religion from society. Taken together, the rule of non-religious despots in the 20th Century contributed to an estimated 30 – 40 million deaths. Besides an outright attempt at banning religion, Keller argues that many believe that as science advances, the ‘need’ for religion will summarily subside. And yet, the opposite is actually occurring. As science careens forward, “Virtually all major religions are growing in number of adherents.” [p. 6] Keller believes that religion is not temporary but is instead central to the human condition and that this truth is not going to change.
Argument 2 – If we can’t get rid of religion, can’t we discourage those who claim to have “the truth” and who attempt to convert others? Can’t we just admit that all religions serve the same god, are of equal importance and create the same path to enlightenment? Keller then lays out the arguments:
— All major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing
— Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth
— Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be ‘truth’
— It is arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it [p. 7, 8, 9, 11]
These axioms – that Keller describes as having been repeated so frequently that they are now considered common sense – have seeped into our society and inconspicuously garnered support with believers and non-believers alike. But as Keller dismantles each axiom, we find that these arguments not only disprove themselves but reveal the self-righteousness and pride of the one making the arguments. “It is no more narrow to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that all are equal) is right. We are all exclusive in our beliefs about religion, but in different ways.” [p.14]
Argument 3 – Religion is a private affair and should be kept as such. If one wants to have religion, then it should be reserved for private conversations with those who adhere to the same thoughts and ideas. Keller shows the foolishness of the person who argues against public pronouncements of religious belief because of its supposed toxicity – a case for a secular belief system that, in and of itself, is not universal, and therefore is actually faith based and has the potential to be just as toxic. His grounds are that, “…all moral positions are at least implicitly religious.” [p. 18] Calling for the complete privatization of religion in and of itself is ultimately a conundrum because it is asking to remove itself, the religious secular belief, to be removed as well.
After thoughtfully dismantling each of the arguments presented, Keller comes full circle and states that although religion has the potential to threaten world peace, Christ’s guiding principles can actually lead His followers to be agents for world peace. Not because of any inherent good they might possess, but because of who they are in Christ. He argues that because the Christian understands his inherent sinfulness and need of a Savior, he is able to see the world through a viewpoint of inclusivity not exclusivity. “God’s grace does not come to people who morally outperform others, but to those who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.” [p. 20] We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Therefore, the Christian life – based on the life and death of Jesus Christ who died for those who hated Him and prayed for their forgiveness – should be marked by more honesty, more humility and more selfless love than any other.
Question: Which of the axioms presented by Keller resonated most with you? Do you agree with it or disagree with it? Why?
My response: The axiom that resonated most with me is “It is arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it” because I have found that I actually believed this to be true. Yikes. I can’t even point to a place or time when I began to believe it to be, as Keller so aptly describes, “common sense”. But the truth is, I did. And my knee-jerk reaction is still to act as if I believe it to be true. It has been so ingrained in me to protect and respect other peoples’ feelings at all costs, even at the cost of obedience to my God. I have come to realize that my sense of their feelings isn’t necessarily – and probably isn’t – the truth. And until I state my beliefs, I have no idea if I would be offensive to them. And if I truly believe that eternal salvation comes only from knowing and loving Jesus, isn’t it not only my right, but my obligation to share when He presents the opportunity?
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:18-20
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