News that Deserves to be Shared
This is part three in a three-part series with Paul Copan, professor of philosophy and ethics, and the Pledger Family Chair at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and author of numerous books on the Christian Faith.Part of the “ground clearing” tactics often required today before the Gospel can be presented may be defending the right to speak at all. Paul Copan answers some objections often raised by those outside the Christian faith:
Should Christians remain quiet about faith since it is personal? Is God a concept we cling to in order to make us feel better? Are evangelicals really no different from militant Islamists?
Defendmag.com wishes to thank Dr. Copan for his willingness to share here his responses to these important questions and for his contribution and guidance to this generation, and to apologists old and new.
Q: My neighbor says religion is personal and I have no right to talk to her about what I believe. How do I respond?
A: Religious faith is certainly personal, but does that mean it’s private? Of course, if people don’t want to talk, we should be gracious in our response to them and not be pushy. However, it might be worth noting a few things.
First, the biblical faith has been responsible for an amazing transformation of Western civilization, including contributing to the founding of human rights discourse, establishing modern science, shaping democracy, giving rise to free markets to bring millions out of poverty—not to mention achievements in art, architecture, music, philosophy, and literature. (See Alvin Schmidt’s How Christianity Changed the World and Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Reason on this.) If Christians had kept their faith private, we simply would not have had these amazing, beneficial achievements that have enhanced human flourishing across history.
Second, this “keeping it private” belief assumes that that all religion is something like a hobby that we keep to ourselves. This is certainly true for a variety of religions. However, the Christian faith is making a public truth-claim that invites public, historical investigation about the answer to our deepest longings and needs, and it offers a powerful, historically-anchored resolution to our miserable human condition—that in Jesus of Nazareth God has acted to bring us forgiveness, hope, and transformation. It is good news for everyone! This amazing news should be shared with others. Why keep to yourself what has so utterly transformed you—not to mention having brought great benefit to civilization. One former Muslim who became a Christian—and was martyred for his newfound faith—said, “The more I study the world’s religions, the more beautiful Jesus appears to me.” Unlike other faiths, this is a message we shouldn’t keep to ourselves. What would you think of someone who had the cure to cancer but only kept it to himself? The Christian faith is a message about the cure to the world’s moral and spiritual cancer.
Third, I’ve hinted at this already, the Christian faith can be investigated historically, scrutinized philosophically, and supported scientifically. Many exceptional philosophers and scientists are also dedicated Christians, and never before has there been such a wealth of resources supporting the intellectual integrity of the Christian faith. However private other faiths may be, the Christian faith was never intended to be so. It offers public knowledge by a God who makes himself publicly available in the person of Jesus Christ, who offers forgiveness and hope to all. This is good news to be shared, not kept to ourselves! No wonder the apostles who were eyewitnesses to the resurrection said, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Q: Was Freud right? Is God a made-up father figure we cling to in order to get through tough times?
A: Freud’s rejection of God based on a believer’s (alleged) inferior motivations is a prime example of bad philosophical reasoning. For one thing, he himself admitted in a letter to a pastor (Oskar Pfister) that he had no clinical evidence for this. Second, even if people believe in God for bad reasons, how does this disprove God’s existence? God’s existence is a separate issue: we need to distinguish between the psychology of belief and the rationality of belief. A person may get a math answer correct by accident, and God may still exist despite a believer’s inferior motivations or reasoning powers that got him there. Third, the arguments for God’s existence offer good reasons or evidence available for all to investigate—arguments from consciousness, beauty, free will, objective moral values, human dignity, the universe’s beginning and fine-tuning, rationality. All of these very evident features of the universe and human experience make better sense if a personal, conscious, good, intelligent, powerful Being exists than that these are the products of material, non-conscious, deterministic, non-rational processes.
Fourth, why should a desire for comfort or security or freedom from fear be considered a bad thing? Many things—family, friends, hot soup on a cold day—bring legitimate comfort. Fifth, what if we have been created for relationship with God to find our security and significance in him? Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God has placed eternity in our hearts. Our deepest longings and desires for love, justice, immortality, security, and transcendence don’t prove God exists, but they could well reflect a reality implanted within us by God. Sixth, what about the motivations of atheists? Are they motivated by not wanting a cosmic authority in their lives? Does this “inferior motivation” disprove atheism? And why is it that theists are the ones being psychologized—as though atheism is the default position? This default position can be challenged. For example, Paul Vitz, a psychologist who taught at New York University, wrote a book, Faith of the Fatherless (Spence). Interestingly, the world’s most famous hard-core atheists and skeptics—David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Madalyn Murray-O’Hair—all had negative or non-existent relationships with their fathers.
Ultimately, Freud’s argument carries no weight at all. In fact, it can be turned on its head to make a case that these deep longings we have are placed in us by a God who made us for relationship with him. As St. Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”
Q: Political pundits are grouping evangelicals and radical Islamists in the same category as equally dangerous. How do we address that issue in the public square?
A: I think it is important to see that Muhammad, as the founder of Islam, is someone who himself was engaged in military campaigns. It’s interesting, the Christian faith spread in the first three centuries not through political power or military expansionist aims, but through deeds of love and the showing of hospitality and the proclamation of the good news. It was not through the forceful, militaristic campaign that Muhammad engaged in. Unlike what you see going on in the Old Testament, Muhammad’s immediate successors went into areas that were already thoroughly Christianized—North Africa, Middle East, Europe—where centers of Christianity existed and were flourishing. Muhammad and his successors went in and took over many of these Christianized areas, making them a Muslim stronghold from that point on.
In my forthcoming coedited book Did God Really Command Genocide? (Baker), we point out that the history of Islam and the example of Muhammad himself set a tone for the expansion of Islam in example and word. In his farewell address, he told his followers: “I was ordered to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no God but Allah.’”This was Muhammad’s “great commission.” So not surprisingly, throughout the history of Islam, there is this understanding that if you are not part of the realm of Islam, you are fair game for jihad, which traditionally has been militaristic, not just some abstract idea of struggle. Jihad is something that has been understood as a physical, military sort of campaign. And the Crusades themselves were a response to Muslim aggression in centuries past as well as ongoing provocations and persecution of Christians, as the forthcoming book also discusses. Jihad seems very consistent with Muhammad’s own practice. By contrast, the Christian faith spread without political power or military might, but by following the example of the crucified and risen Christ.
Even though the Qur’an says, “let there no more compulsion in religion,” you do see very strongly certain compulsory texts within the Qur’an. So, first of all the Muslims who are engaged in militaristic attacks are ones who are, in many ways, trying to live out consistently what the Qur’an is saying and what Muhammad exemplified and commanded.