Christianity: So Bloody Arrogant(?)!

We’ve all heard or read things like this: “To say that Jesus is the only way to peace with God is arrogant and intolerant.  To say that the truths of Christianity are the ‘True Truths’ is snobbish and condescending.”  I’m sure you can add a few more.

These may at times seem to contain a little truth.  In fact, statements like these from agnostics or atheists can shake Christians up: “Good point; what makes me right and others wrong?”  The (post)modern tidal wave of tolerance can almost sweep Christians off their feet.   So what do we do with such claims of arrogance and snobbery?

First, we have to understand that there is “no neutral judgment seat” from which the opening questions can be asked.  There is no objective judgment seat that is “over” and “above” cultures, traditions, and belief systems.   As I quoted from Newbigin before, “There are no canons of reason which are not part of a socially embodied tradition of rational debate” (p. 64).  In fact, to suggest that Christianity is intolerant is an arrogant suggestion.  The person saying as much is arrogantly sitting on a universal throne of judgment which no person has the right to sit upon.  Besides, her remark is totally full of her own cultural baggage: she has particular presuppositions and “dogmas” by which she judges all things.  Furthermore, she has not searched out every corner of every religion that ever existed which would give her some authority in making such a claim.

Keller is helpful here too, secondly.  He says that such statements are belief statements, “unprovable faith assumptions.”  The person who says Christianity is intolerant is making a religious statement with his own doctrinal beliefs.  Keller: “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. 12-13).

Here is a section of Newbigin that also helps answer the opening questions.

“When we point to Jesus, and to the story which has its center in the cross, we are invoking a criterion by which all our claims to justice are humbled and relativized.  To affirm the unique decisiveness of God’s action in Jesus Christ is not arrogance; it is the enduring bulwark against the arrogance of every culture to be itself the criterion by which others are judged” (p. 166).

Newbigin also says that there are two ways to use reason when discussing the above questions: it may serve autonomy and act as ultimate judge (which no human has the right to do), or it may be open, ready to be challenged and questioned and changed.  Christianity is the latter – we abandon the sovereign claims of autonomous reason and are judged by someone, something else.  In positive terms, this is the gospel killing us and making us alive.  It takes us off the throne and teaches us the “logic of election:” I did not choose to be a Christian, Jesus chose me to be part of this story.  He sits on the throne, not me.  We don’t make truth claims, Jesus does, and his truth claims challenged, called, and changed us.  The atheist/agnostic has a problem with Jesus, ultimately.   Of course we know that if one has a problem with Christ, he has a problem with Christianity.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

15 Replies to “Christianity: So Bloody Arrogant(?)!”

  1. “The atheist/agnostic has a problem with Jesus, ultimately.”

    I’m an atheist, and no I don’t.

    I don’t think everything that he says in the story is terribly intelligent or correct. But overall, the Jesus character is a pretty decent one.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that I think he necessarily existed (at least not exactly as depicted), nor that I think that if he did existed he was a god.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, MorseCode.

    If I can kindly counter your claim, I would say you do in fact have a problem with Jesus. You say his story is not exactly intelligent or correct, and you say that he may not even be a historical figure; finally, you say that he was not God. Those are exactly contrary to his own claims and what his followers believed, so you do have a problem with him.

    Again, thanks for the interaction.

    shane

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  3. “so you do have a problem with him.”

    Not to get into semantics, but that depends on what you mean by “have a problem with”.

    If your definition is that if you disagree with even one thing a person says you have a problem with that person, then yes, it fits.

    But looking at that phrase I take it to mean that I have some sort of anger at the person in question. And that is not the case.

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  4. The claim that “Christianity’s claims to truth are arrogant” may or may not be itself arrogant. If the person is saying that Christianity is simply wrong, and its followers are deceived, then yes, their claims are arrogant. As my father taught me, “All men assume everyone else is as evil as they”. In other words, they’re the ones who are actually guilty of what they’re accusing us of.

    However, if their fundamental presupposition is that Christianity is making claims about the noumenal, and thus cannot be judged one way or another, then they’re not arrogant when they say that we’re being arrogant. To someone like that, we are being arrogant, precisely because claims about noumenal things (e.g., God) cannot be evaluated, indeed, cannot be known. Ergo, Christianity is something believed by people necessarily just because it makes them happy or satisfies some deep psychological need.

    My point is just this: they’re only arrogant if they’re presupposing that Christianity MUST be untrue. They’re not arrogant if they’re merely skeptical epistemologically speaking. Of course, you could argue that they’ve arrived at their skeptical position IN ORDER to deny the truth claims of Christianity. Then again, you can also say that it’s self-contradictory to say, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” And if it’s self contradictory, then they’re making a claim in a hidden premise that they know all that can be known, which is why they CAN know that nothing can be known.

    All I’m saying is that perhaps they are unaware of such a premise, their poor minds being dulled by sin.

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  5. Morsecode: You’re right – “have a problem with” doesn’t have to mean anger. Point well taken.

    I hate asking questions via this “weak” form of dialogue, but if Jesus and his word said that your beliefs (stated above) were patently false and made you guilty for believing them, what would your response be?

    Thanks for the clarity and patience.

    Mike: thanks for the comments. Feel free to expand.

    shane

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  6. “but if Jesus and his word said that your beliefs (stated above) were patently false and made you guilty for believing them, what would your response be?”

    My response would be, show me the evidence that I am wrong, and tell me what you mean by the word ‘guilty’.

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  7. I’m not sure to what extent I can expand. I’ll try.

    I’m an agnostic. I don’t think you CAN know anything about God, or even whether there is a God or not. This kind of knowledge is simply impossible.

    Let’s fill this guy out a little bit.

    I grew up in a home that practiced witchcraft and magic. One day I realized that it was all a lie, that there actually is no such thing as magic. Bitter and jaded, I picked up the newspaper and read about Muslims who believe in God killing Christians who believe in God. I went to school and heard about the Crusades, in which Christians declared war on Muslims – God fearers one and all. Everyone I’ve ever come into contact with that claims something about God has done nothing but used those claims to oppress others and commit atrocities of various kinds. Claims about God inevitably lead to evil. And not just small evils, but world wide wars and the deaths of millions.

    And growing up in a Pagan home, I heard all sorts of crazy things about Christians. They eat flesh and drink blood, they reanimate the dead, have strange, secret cult meetings in caves at dawn – or at least they used to. And some said that they had strange ceremonies that I cannot repeat here.

    Now, for a guy like that, do we really think that his claim: “truth claims about God lead to evil” is arrogant?

    Perhaps it is true that deep inside, as Van Til would teach us, logically speaking, if you say that God is completely unknowable, you claim more than you are able to claim. After all, the only way to truly know that humans could not know anything about God at all, would be to know God fully, and then compare what humans have claimed with what you know. Then you could say that what humans know doesn’t measure up to who and what God is. So to say that humans cannot know God at all is necessarily an arrogant claim at bottom, because he who utters such a thing must know God utterly.

    Unless of course the poor, depraved sinner is just being logically inconsistent because his mind is clouded by his own sin, coupled with the horrible witness that the Church has borne over the centuries. To you and I, pagans are not Muslims are not Christians. To the “non-religious” type, they’re all the same – people who make truth claims about God (or gods, whatever the case may be).

    The hyperlink I posted above explains how ancient pagans viewed Christians. Unfortunately, a lot of people who claimed the name of Christian did some pretty awful, crazy, over-the-top pagan type things in the name of Christianity because they thought they could sin all they want or some such thing. Proto-gnostics perhaps, or just pagans who didn’t have to be pious anymore. And people heard about these things. Christians, to many pagans in the first and second century, were crazy people who had strange illicit meetings in dark caves, sacrificed babies and ate them, and who knows what else? Some people were scared of them because of the undoubtedly embellished things they heard, and everyone was suspicious of them.

    Thus Pliny, governor of Bythinia, in writing to Caesar in the early second cent said that the Christians in his province didn’t seem to have committed any crime, and they ate food that was safe and normal. But he still put them to death. Why? Because they had this misunderstood reputation. Why? Because Christians are sinners, and no matter how little sense it makes to us, we are Christ’s ambassadors to a fallen world.

    So if people see the worst in people being brought out as a result of having truth claims about God, it seems downright reasonable that they might conclude that knowing something about God is utterly impossible. After all, they would be rightly determining that knowledge of God should lead to good, not evil. If they see it only leading to evil, then it must not actually be knowledge of God.

    So to put it in a syllogism, just for fun:

    1. True knowledge of God leads to good in the knower. (deductive, rational)
    2. Claims to knowledge of God leads to only evil. (inductive, empirical)
    3. Therefore, claims to knowledge of God are false.

    Or even simpler:

    Let A refer to true knowledge
    Let B refer to the good morals resulting from true knowledge

    1. If A, then B
    2. not B
    3. Therefore, not A

    This is modus tollens if I remember my symbolic logic classes, and a valid form of argumentation.

    Now if someone goes through that sort of reasoning, and comes to that conclusion, I’m very hesitant to say that the reason is that they’re arrogant. However, it is based on this kind of reasoning, this conclusion that MANY today reach, that people conclude that truth claims about God are necessarily all false and lead to evil.

    But furthermore, it’s not just evil in general that they see flowing from truth claims about God. They see a certain arrogance that drives people to want to oppress those who don’t have the same beliefs. You see, once they’ve come to the conclusion that the truth claims must be false because knowledge of God is impossible, then such truth claims can only be a sort of boast, ergo, these truth claims are arrogant. Couple that with people who lord their beliefs over others and voila…

    Whatever you think about the Inquisition, whether it was a lot of people killed by the church or a few, it really doesn’t matter. Lots of people believe that many, perhaps MILLIONS of women were put to death as witches during the Inquisition. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter, many people believe it’s true.

    So in their eyes, the church isn’t content to just know what they know and be happy knowing God. No, they’ve got to put to death those who disagree. (Isn’t this how people try to mischaracterize Calvin and Servetus?) So the evil that results from truth claims about God isn’t just what we would call sin, but arrogance, the kind of arrogance that says: “convert or die”. And it HAS to be brute arrogance that drives it, not religious zeal, because after all, it’s all false, it’s all a lie. You can’t know ANYTHING about God. If you could, people would, and they wouldn’t be evil, they’d be good. But instead, every group of people that have claimed knowledge of God have committed atrocities – and all in the name of God.

    Never mind the truth. Never mind the fact that those who truly DO know God actually are being sanctified. There are relatively few of us. There are far more who claim to be Christians that are not. There are, for example, a billion Roman Catholics – at least that’s what I’m told. How good of a witness are they? Yes, I know, some might be saved. Ok, but the rest?

    “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” Rom 2:24. Paul says that what was true of the Jews remains true of Christians. It’s still true today.

    So all that to say, is there, in some of these post-modern, every-truth-claim-is-will-to-power types some arrogance? Yes. Arrogance surely drives some of them. But I think there are many who aren’t so arrogant. They’re not knowingly judging God (I mean, they’re unbelievers, so that qualifies what I’m saying here) so much as they’re judging US. And in Rom 2:24, Paul seems to say, “What’d you expect?”

    You see, it’s not like they’ve got access to what Christianity truly IS. It’s not like they’ve got access to it, understand it thoroughly, and then judge it saying, “Yeah, you guys are so confused. God is REALLY like…”

    Eschatologically, yes, they’re beast worshipers and Christian oppressors. But existentially, in the here and now, isn’t it more complicated than that?

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  8. Morsecode:

    Why is the burden of proof/evidence in the Christian’s court? What is your evidence that tells you you’re right?

    By guilty the Bible/Jesus means “accountable before God the judge for what you believe and what you don’t believe, as well as for immoral/sinful actions.”

    Thanks,
    shane

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  9. Morsec0de;

    You wrote, “My response would be, show me the evidence that I am wrong [about your claim that God does not exist], and tell me what you mean by the word ‘guilty’.”

    The bottom line of this entire discussion is that you would reject any form of evidence given to prove God’s existence. Even if God came and performed miracle after miracle in your presence you would reject him. In fact, this is exactly what happened when God made himself man and lived on earth. John 12:37 says, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”

    I’ve heard the atheist line before that says something like “I’d believe in God if he would simply show himself to us”, yet the entire universe screams evidences for its creator’s existence. God shows his power in the created and physical order, and demonstrates his character in the moral conscience infused in all of us. Even the logic and reason we based these types of discussions on is itself dependent upon God’s existence, as (formerly) atheist philosopher Antony Flew has recently admitted.

    So if man was so inclined to reject the many large miracles Christ performed right in their presence, and we remain inclined to reject the small miracles that comprise everyday life as proof of God, then it’s logical and reasonable that we’re going to reject any proof God offers for himself. Rejection of such obvious truth is the height of arrogance and is the capital crime we are all guilty of.

    The good news is that God doesn’t totally reject us even though we’ve rejected him. Once God has softened our hard hearts with his spirit, we can finally recognize his all-enveloping presence and providence in our lives. Most importantly, God opens our eyes to see that Christ is much more than just a positive moral role model (Paul wrote that if Christ were just a guide for our earthly lives, Christians would be the most pitiful people on earth), but rather Christ’s sacrifice restores our relationship with God.

    I’ve haven’t had the time to take a deep look at your blog, but I will. I’d encourage you to continue questioning the prevailing worldviews and philosophies. After you’ve rejected philosophy after philosophy, and religion after religion, you’ll be either be left with the irrational conclusion of nihilism, or God’s spirit will open your heart to the simple beauty of the truth.

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  10. Shane,

    “Why is the burden of proof/evidence in the Christian’s court?”

    Because they’re the ones that are making the claim.

    “What is your evidence that tells you you’re right?”

    The lack of good evidence for anything supernatural.

    To quote a gentleman by the name of Tim Minchin: “Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic.” So why should we make the assumption that the mysteries that haven’t been solved are magic?

    The answer is, we shouldn’t. Not until there’s good evidence for it. And I’ve yet to see any.

    ““accountable before God the judge for what you believe and what you don’t believe, as well as for immoral/sinful actions.””

    I view the morality of anyone or anything that judges people by their belief and not by action to be, at least a bit, reprehensible.

    Sorry.

    CW,

    “The bottom line of this entire discussion is that you would reject any form of evidence given to prove God’s existence.”

    No I wouldn’t.

    I’d reject any form of evidence that modern Christians tell me they’ve experienced. (At least all the ones I’ve heard so far.) But a good, old fashioned miracle from the OT? That would be a huge step in your favor, and a huge step towards me believing.

    “Even if God came and performed miracle after miracle in your presence you would reject him.”

    Incorrect.

    A shame that your god, according to you, only tried it once in the middle of a desert with only a few people, as opposed to a modern culture with mass communication.

    Quite convenient, I’d say.

    “yet the entire universe screams evidences for its creator’s existence.”

    I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. You believe in god and thus see it everywhere. But that doesn’t make it objectively there.

    The Wiccan sees magic everywhere, and mystical energies. But them seeing it doesn’t make it there.

    “as (formerly) atheist philosopher Antony Flew has recently admitted.”

    Good for him. So? He’s wrong.

    The rest of your comments are not convincing. I’m sure they work on people who already believe. But they don’t on me.

    Sorry.

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  11. Morsecode,

    In a court of law in our country, people are convicted of crimes based on the testimony of witnesses. If you murder someone, and 10 people saw you do it, you’re going to jail based on the word of those 10 witnesses.

    This was especially true before the days of modern forensics, but even with the advent of modern forensics, it remains true. Prosecutors still want a witness to the crime to make their cases.

    So if you don’t accept the testimony of witnesses as being valid evidence, you are in a very distinct minority, and in point of fact, if the testimony of witnesses were removed as valid evidence, there’d be no one left in jail, because it would be impossible for judges and juries to every convict anyone.

    So the testimony of witnesses is pretty much universally accepted as valid evidence.

    So here’s the claim of Christianity: many, many witnesses claimed to have seen Christ, alive and well, after he had been crucified. The Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would come, suffer, die, and rise from the dead. And that’s exactly what happened, based on the word of countless witnesses, all of which testimony is discussed at length both in the New Testament and outside of it.

    The fact of the matter is, if you don’t accept their testimony, it’s not because testimony is not valid evidence. The reason must be because you just don’t accept that it’s possible for someone to raise from the dead. But that’s just it. It’s not just someone who raised from the dead, it was a very special person, utterly unique in the history of the world who raised from the dead. Why he raised from the dead is a very important question, but it’s actually separate from the question of the fact of the resurrection.

    Did he raise from the dead or did he not? Numerous witnesses tell us that he did.

    But no one else has ever risen from the dead! Logically, that doesn’t mean Jesus could not have. Jesus is fundamentally different from everyone else in the fact that he did not sin. Death is due to sin. Had Adam not sinned, he would have gone on living forever. But he did sin, and we inherited the problem of death from him. Jesus, on the other hand, is different, which is why he did raise from the dead.

    Now David Hume, that famous philosopher, proved that just because the sun has always risen everyday, does not logically entail that it must rise tomorrow. The past cannot ever prove definitively anything about the future. You’re trying to make a DEDUCTIVE claim based on INDUCTIVE evidence.

    Your claim works like this:

    No one has ever risen from the dead in MY experience.
    Therefore, it is impossible for someone to rise from the dead.

    But your claim does not work, because you have not witnesses all of human history, past, present and future. You cannot say whether or not it’s possible for someone to rise from the dead. You’re simply not qualified. Nor am I. None of us are. Only God’s knowledge is extensive enough to know for certain. But what we have are witnesses to a very unique and historic event: namely the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

    Now you wonder why it happened then and not now – to that I say, don’t be jealous of them for their experience. What is held out to you is something even better: eternal life. Who cares if you didn’t witness the miracles? The miracles served their purpose at the time. Now we need to depend on the eye-witness accounts. Just because we are not eye-witnesses ourselves does not mean we cannot sit on the jury and judge justly.

    Now in point of fact, had this happened today, and it was recorded on camera, and everyone could see it, people would still be saying that it’s all fake, that it’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

    That’s what pagans said back in the day. It was by magic that Jesus performed miracles, they said. They didn’t deny he did them.

    So the question is, will you accept the testimony of witnesses, or will you simply refuse to believe and so be saved from the coming judgment?

    And by the way, you said you don’t like the idea of being judged based on what you believe. Have no fear. You will be judged by God based on all the rebellious things you did, said and thought in your mind on that day of judgment. You won’t be condemned for what you believe, but for what you have done.

    But the remarkable thing about Jesus is that if you believe in him, then that judgment based on deeds cannot condemn you, because it condemned Christ instead. That’s why he died. He was condemned and sentenced in my place. Meanwhile, I am rewarded in HIS place. But anyway, that’s why he died, because of our sin. But he raised because it wasn’t HIS sin for which he died. Death is punishment for sin. Jesus never sinned, therefore death had no power over him.

    And if you want to see a miracle, have no fear, for a miraculous display of his power is coming, and everyone will see and believe. Of course, by then it will be too late.

    Sorry.

    Your only hope is to accept the valid testimony of witnesses.

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  12. “So if you don’t accept the testimony of witnesses as being valid evidence, you are in a very distinct minority”

    So you believe that people are abducted by aliens in UFOs? Because there are quite a lot of testimony from first hand witnesses for that.

    And if you don’t believe it, why don’t you?

    Anecdotal evidence is actually the worst kind of evidence there is. Any scientist will tell you that, no matter what the legal system says.

    “Did he raise from the dead or did he not? Numerous witnesses tell us that he did.”

    Actually, no they don’t.

    A few sources written literally decades after the event was supposed to have taken place say that there were witnesses. But that is not the same as having a solid witness.

    Even if they did, I again bring up the case of the UFO abductee. Taking a witness’ testimony as ‘gospel’ (forgive the pun) is not a universal trait. Even you don’t do it.

    “then that judgment based on deeds cannot condemn you, because it condemned Christ instead. That’s why he died.”

    So I WILL be judged based on what I believe, and not my actions.

    If you and I had done all the exact same things, with the only difference being you believed and I didn’t, and I was punished…then I’m being punished for my belief, not my acts.

    Luckily it doesn’t scare me, as there’s no good evidence to back it up. Your attempt at making witness testimony worth more than it is, even though you have no real substantial or validated eye-witness testimony for your god, has failed.

    Sorry.

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  13. The remarkable thing, Morsec0de, is that you’ve got all the qualifications to be a great Christian!

    – Your understanding of salvation is spot on: “So I WILL be judged based on what I believe, and not my actions.” (John 6:29- Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”)

    – You recognize that truth must be logical and coherent and not just based on existential feelings.

    – You understand that our cultural contexts and paradigms often dictate interpretations of truth: “The Wiccan sees magic everywhere, and mystical energies. But them seeing it doesn’t make it there.”

    – You have a tremendous amount of faith!

    The problem is that you don’t consistently apply these traits to your own beliefs! You accuse Christians of seeing Christian evidences only because of our cultural conditioning, yet suppose your own conclusions are above the subjective frey (for the absurdity of this, read agnostic philosopher Thomas Kuhn – he correctly concludes that all science is subjective). You accept subjective scientific dogmas which are based on an unprovable hypothesis as being objectively true.

    The currently prevailing scientific theories regarding the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and macro evolution have never been completely proven (they may even be unprovable, which as you would say is rather convenient). Granted, there is much evidence to support these claims, but ultimately it takes faith to accept these theories as being objectively true.

    So you see, the argument is not between faith and reason, the argument is in what do you place your faith?

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  14. Morsecode,

    Actually, I think your argument about UFO’s and aliens is a very good argument.

    The truth is, I don’t really know what to make of all that testimony. The reason why I’m not convinced is because I don’t really want to be. I really don’t want to believe that there are aliens.

    But I have to admit that it’s possible. So while I don’t believe it, I don’t definitively deny it either.

    MG

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  15. I am a spiritual person and believe in love for humanity and the universe as a whole. Why would God send a loving human being to hell because they are gay or had sex before marriage? As long as we are decent loving people why should such lifestyle choices matter? I believe in unity and co-operation. We are all interconnected in this universe.

    Perhaps a devout Christian could enlighten me to why only they are truly righteous as there are many good people who don’t adhere to Christianity. Surely love transcends all religious moral dogma.
    My limited understanding is that Jesus didn’t judge and had love for all, I think this a message we can all folllow, especially in these deluded, materialistic times.

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