Monday, October 8, 2007

Faith In Action

Two weeks ago I linked to this post in my Shabbat Ideas. This is a very interesting and important critique of the more aggressive atheist in the world. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, writes that while there are problems with religion, there are great benefits as well. He asks the likes of Christopher Hitchens, where are the atheist soup kitchens and atheist drug treatment workshops. It is worth a re-read and why I have reposted it.

What About the Atheists?

When Christopher Hitchens observes that, “Religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children,” he is both right and wrong.

Hitchens is right because humankind is sinful and selfish. Indeed, I believe it was G.K. Chesterton who said that the one Christian doctrine that was demonstrably provable, even to casual observers, was the sinfulness and depravity of man. Thus, human expressions of the religious impulse will inevitably produce some religious practices and beliefs that would fit Hitchens’ rather grim description.

Human history is replete with such flawed expressions of religious faith.

However, this would be true of all secular philosophies and ideologies as well. Three of the most heinous and barbaric ideologies, which produced the greatest cruelties and violations of humanity in the 20th century, were fascism, Nazism and communism—all secular.

Hitchens is wrong in that he condemns all religious expression to the category of such violent and negative expressions. Many of the noblest expressions of humanity throughout the centuries have been performed in the name of religion.

One thinks of William Wilberforce and his long campaign to end the slave trade in the British Empire. Both the British and American abolitionist movements were founded, nurtured, financed and led to victory against the horrific evil of slavery by people who were most often inspired and motivated by deep religious conviction.

The great social reform movements of the last half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century (child labor reform, etc.) were often led by people of deep religious faith, Protestant and Catholic.

And of course, in the lifetime of many of us who were born in the last half of the 20th century, the most successful and greatest reform movement was the civil rights revolution, led by a Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who often said that the movement and the faith that inspired it could not be separated. As many will remember, the civil rights revolution was supported by and led to victory in large part because of the leadership of clergy, black and white.

Lastly, one is led to ask Mr. Hitchens some questions. Where are the great atheist-sponsored charitable and reform movements? Where are the atheist children homes and orphanages? Where are the atheist leaders who are taking vows of poverty and giving themselves in sacrificial service to others? As Arthur C. Brooks, professor at Syracuse University, points out in his recent book, Who Really Cares? (2006): Religious people are far more generous with their own time and money than secularists. Brooks concludes, “Religious folks are by far the most charitable people in America today.”
The comments are worth reading too.

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