The post that has occupied my time over the course of the past couple of weeks has raised an issue that I feel the need to address, not just for the sake of the one who raised it, Ryan, but also because one hears a similar sentiment from many corners these days. Even a man as learned as Christopher Hitchins has played this card, as have, I’d imagine, most of the current “militant atheists” (though I’m not labeling Ryan as an atheist by any means; he has not revealed his feelings on God’s existence, only his distaste for “organized religion”). The old saw is to suggest that “organized religion” has been responsible for wars and suffering and the like. My point in this post is that I do not carry the water for anything and everything that this world labels “organized religion”. Allow me to explain…
I do not carry the water for Islam. I do not carry the water for Hinduism. I do not carry the water for Buddhism. For that matter, I do not carry the water for Roman Catholicism. What happens in these faiths, both their shortcomings and their strengths, I take neither blame nor credit for. This cuts both ways; while the terrorism and the wars started by Islam don’t have the first thing to do with me, simply because Islam is a “religion”; at the same time, I can’t point to Gandhi and say, “see, this is what religion does for people”. The reason, of course, is that what these faiths do is as different from what I am all about as pickles and porcupines. I recall a quote—the author of which I cannot call to mind right now, though my money is on Chesterton—which suggested that, while most people say that Christian faith is different from other faiths on a superficial level, but is really after the same thing deep down, the exact opposite is true: Christian faith is superficially very similar to other faiths, but is fundamentally very different.
Regardless, here’s a good bottom-line test, call it the “Magic Wand Test”: if I had a magic wand, and could make Islam disappear from the earth tomorrow, would I? Of course! Disclaimer: I would never, under any circumstances, use force in order to accomplish such; I’m only speaking hypothetically of the fact that I am convinced that the world would be a better place if faiths that contradict the gospel of Jesus Christ lost all influence on others. Again, this doesn’t deny that there are many, many fine people who practice other faiths (and some scoundrels who call themselves “Christians”); Gandhi serves as a terrific example of this, but there are countless others, of course. Nonetheless, if the gospel is true, then all competing faiths are false; ergo, my desire that they be disbelieved by all, and the gospel of Jesus Christ stand alone. By the way, I include Roman Catholicism in this indictment, not that there aren’t many Catholics who are sincerely Christian people, but that as long as the edicts of the Council of Trent (anathematizing evangelicals such as myself) remain in effect, then we are not on the same team, just as I’m in no sense of the word the “teammate” of people from other faiths, playing on some “Religion Team”. It defies both logic and reality to suggest otherwise, and represents lazy thinking on the part of Hitchens, et al, to suggest that “religion is responsible for suffering and war”, when each “religion” must be evaluated separately and on its own merits.
Now…one of the hallmarks of this blog, as regular readers would know and as should be evident by the very name of the blog itself, is that I’m not going to justify the unjustifiable, no matter who does it; we try not to drink the Kool-Aid for anybody here. Combined with my statements above, this means that there are people for whom I do carry the water, who are “on my team”, who do things that are an embarrassment, people who need to be called to account for their words and deeds. Ted Haggard is on my team, as is Pat Robertson, Amy Grant, Joel Osteen (at least I hope), Rick Warren, etc. On this site, I have taken each of these to task (with the possible exception of Haggard, who should be taken to task, of course). We evangelicals have committed our share of blunders, verbal and otherwise, and none of these are in any sense of the word justified; they give a black eye to the name of our Lord and Savior.
Another word must be said, and that is that those who lump all faiths together under the rubric of “religion” in order to speak of all of its supposed ills tend to overlook the many positive things done by Christians throughout the millennia. Again, I will not speak of other faiths; I carry no water for them at all. But to ignore the good that has been wrought by people who are committed followers of Jesus is to have a hopelessly-jaded viewpoint of human history, and calls into question one’s ability to speak dispassionately about much of anything.
Finally, a critical distinction ought to be made with regard to whatever bad behavior has been committed by true followers of Christ; Wayne Watson puts it well in the title of one of his songs, when he sings,
That’s not Jesus, no, He doesn’t carry on that way; just some flesh-and-blood like you and me, somehow gone astray. That’s not Jesus, no, no matter what they say. He doesn’t need me to defend Him; He just wants me to obey.
What I’m driving at is that there has been plenty of evil committed in the name of Christ, but never in the spirit of Christ. Jesus doesn’t put people up to shooting abortion doctors—ever—no matter what the murderers themselves say. Jesus doesn’t inspire this health-and-wealth TV evangelist nonsense that Joel Osteen spews on a weekly basis. Jesus doesn’t justify our materialism, our greed, our misplaced priorities; Jesus calls His followers to turn the other cheek, and so the Crusades, done ostensibly in His name, were certainly not done with any consideration whatsoever of His spirit.
Religion? I carry no water for it at all.