Friday, July 24, 2009

Everyone Makes Exclusive Truth Claims

Tim Keller really has a way of putting things. Yesterday was a prime example.

Have you ever talked to someone about the gospel only to hear them say (something like), "I don't have a problem with you believing in Jesus if it gives you peace and comfort. But you shouldn't go around trying to convert people!" In giving this sort of response, people think that they are being very tolerant and pluralistic. "Everyone can believe what they like, just don't impose your beliefs on others." This perspective sounds good because it seems to convey the idea that everyone's take on spiritual reality is equally good. It avoids committing the worst of sins: making an exclusive truth claim.

But there's a problem with their problem with my evangelism, as Keller said. What they really mean is, "I have a problem with you believing in Jesus the way you do," or "you shouldn't/can't believe the way you do." But this flies in the face of the very sentiment they think they are communicating. They are, in effect, saying, "My take on spiritual reality (in which everyone's beliefs are equally good) is better than yours (in which Jesus is the only way)." They are making an exclusive truth claim. You can't escape making exclusive truth claims, it seems, if you want to say that there is something wrong about evangelism/sharing the gospel.

Does this sound right to you? Do you think someone can stand in criticism of evangelistic efforts without making some sort of exclusive truth claim?
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Are Atheists Bad People?

Richard Feldman, in his essay, "Reasonable Religious Disagreement," comments that it is sheer nonsense to think that an atheist could not be a decent person or a good candidate for public office. He cites columnist Cal Thomas as an example of this kind of thinking, though he believes it is widespread throughout our culture.

So if it is nonsense to doubt the moral fiber of a man simply because he does not believe in God, when why do so many people think this way? I certainly wouldn't put it past myself or other Americans to believe nonsense, but why is this particular error so common? I think Feldman may be confusing two claims.

1. Atheists cannot be moral people.
2. Atheists are less moral than religious people.

I think (1) is clearly false. I've never met an amoral atheist, and I've known lots of atheists. Most of them are decent people. But what about (2)? I think this may be true, depending on what 'moral' means. If 'moral' just means kind, generous, and helpful, then (2) is probably false. But if a 'moral' person is one who submits himself to the authority of a traditional moral code, one who believes that he has certain moral duties that are not mere human artifacts, then I think (2) is true. Atheists just don't typically think this way. Religious people typically do. Whether this sense of 'moral' is good or bad is irrelevant. It may be the case that people who are moral in this sense end up being intolerable prudes. But it would still stand to reason that atheists are less likely to fit this description than religious believers.

So, I think it may not be nonsense after all to believe something like (2). If the majority of Americans think a public official ought to be moral in the more duty-oriented sense, then it is not at all unreasonable to prefer a religious person over an atheist.