The heart of the problem — literally

Just a few days ago, I observed an online conversation over the comment that “religion is the cause of all wars” (it empirically isn’t, despite the fact that’s become a favorite trope of many atheists).  One commenter tried to point out how one doesn’t have to be religiously motivated to try to force their will on another person… that there is something inherent in each of us that simply wants our own way.  Whether small scale (individual fights) or large (war), that’s the root cause of conflict.  Granted, “religion” can sometimes be the excuse/symptom of that self-centeredness…

…or it could be something as simple as wanting to park your car where and when you want:

A woman who called 911 to report a shooting at a quiet condominium complex near the University of North Carolina campus said she had heard five to 10 gunshots and students screaming, according to a recording of the call released Wednesday by the police.

The shooting, which left three Muslim students dead, occurred Tuesday around 5 p.m. and the police later arrested a 46-year old man, who lived in the same complex, and charged him with first-degree murder, saying the attack may have been a lethal escalation of a neighborhood parking dispute.

An important point here: despite the attempts of some to paint this as a potential “Christian hate crime” against Muslims, there’s ample evidence the suspect was not only an atheist, but an aggressive anti-theist.  Maybe that was part of the motivation, maybe it wasn’t.  What is clear is that three human beings are dead because of some particular aspect of self-centeredness.

I agree with atheists that we are “all people” and that religion does indeed divide us.  It is far from the only thing that does, however.  Where I take serious issue is with this ignorant mantra that if somehow religion went away completely, the world would be a more perfect place.  “More evolved” is one of the ways I sometimes hear it put, as though faith is somehow holding humanity back from its full potential.

On second thought, maybe it is: humanity, after all, has demonstrated a vast potential for abuse, self-destruction and slaughter.  And while ‘religion’ is sometimes appropriated as an excuse or cover for such things, far more often it is a restraint on them.  Actions borne of honest faith and piety have done more to free slaves, uplift the poor and bestow equal dignity than has any other function of human existence.

With that, I can already hear the objection: “you don’t have to be religious to be moral!”  While I’ll acknowledge there are plenty of well-behaved people who have no interest in God, the simple fact is that those who act that way are borrowing their values.  The objection is an attempt to ‘have your cake and eat it too.’  The atheist/materialist acknowledges no divine authority from which to derive standards of right and wrong.  If that is the case, though — that all of existence is defined by materialism — from whence do these standards of right and wrong come?  Nature is famously “red in tooth and claw,” which is part of the problem I’m describing: something is innately wrong with this universe, with conflict and death inherently bound up with it.  If the material is all there is, and evolution is survival of the fittest, then the default logically is “the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”

Even in the present state of moral decay, most people–religious or not–instinctively reject that conclusion.  But lacking anything “outside the box” of the material universe, on what basis do they reject it?  Frankly, those who do reject it do so based on the glimmer of Truth that still resides in our heart, even darkened as it is by the Fall.  Trying to build a moral worldview out of that, while denying the Source of that spark of Truth, is like trying to build a structure while simultaneously removing any hint of its foundation.

My faith is in Christ in no small part because, like C.S. Lewis, I believe the Bible’s description of how we all, individually, fall short even of standards we try to set for ourselves, much less those God sets for us, marries up perfectly with the world we observe around us.  What’s more, like Lewis, I acknowledge my own struggles with this brokenness, and the fact that what “success” occurs is not due to my own strength, but that of Another.

So for all those who would like to see ‘religion’ — including the Christian faith — disappear entirely, ask yourself this: do you really think that conflict, abuse, and killing would disappear with it?  On what historical evidence do you assume that?  Or is it possible the conflict, death and destruction would be all the more potent once nobody acknowledges a higher authority than themselves?

“Organized religion” absolutely can have its problems because any organization or endeavor is run by imperfect human beings.  That alone doesn’t negate the truth claims of faith.  As others have put it: “you can’t judge the -ism by the -ist.”  Truth is simply truth, whether its adherents fail to observe it, or its detractors choose to deny it.  And the truth is this: left to ourselves we are disposed to do wrong to those around us, given the opportunity.

“Choose this day whom you will serve.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

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