written by: Noah Storkson
Typical devotionals—I’m sure many of you are familiar with them—are centered around a Bible verse and intended to focus the heart (hence the name “devotional”). We’ll get to that, but for now, I’d like to focus on the mind towards more of a defense of our faith. I’d like to focus on a subject which has dealt blows to the Christian faith of many and has been an excuse for many more to refuse God. That is, the charge that Christianity and the Church, both today and throughout history, are unnecessary for doing good and, therefore, the harms inflicted by religion outweigh its usefulness.
One doesn’t need to be a Christian to do good, right? Christopher Hitchens, an atheist—or, in his own words, and anti-theist—says: “Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer. As yet, I have no takers. (Whereas, oddly enough, if you ask an audience to name a wicked statement or action directly attributable to religious faith, nobody has any difficulty in finding an example.)” Empirically, Hitchens seems correct and to disagree appears arrogant. It is an issue worth tackling, as applied to the Christian religion, humbly. So let’s get to it!
First of all, Hitchens is smart enough to admit that, concerning the good or bad works of a religious person, “this says nothing about the belief system involved.” It is strictly an argument against religion’s necessity and usefulness. But, to use atheism and Christianity—proponents of both have done good, charitable works as well as heinous atrocities—there is a big difference between the two. According to verses such as James 1:26-27, for a Christian to commit atrocities in the name of religion, he must first twist his religion. Thus, those wicked statements and actions are directly attributable to twisted Christianity, not Christianity itself.
Now, for a common and more down-to-Earth example: a man very close to me was raised in a Christian home. We’ll call him Jack for the sake of anonymity. Jack’s family, and Jack specifically, were deeply wounded by a legalistic church while he was in high school and, shortly afterwards, he and his family moved to a new area. Churches were everywhere in this new area and the majority of people called themselves “Christian.” Sadly, most of them did not exemplify what Christianity is supposed to look like: a bridled tongue, caring for those in distress, and keeping oneself unstained by the world. Jack had experienced two extreme tendencies of Christian circles: legalism and hypocrisy. So, he said, “Forget this!”, rejected Christianity, and came to believe that the Church is just a money-making organization that needs to change its priorities.
That is where Hitchens’ question affects how you and I live. For his question is one of practicality. Yes, it is essential to distance Biblical Christianity from its less-than-satisfactory “representatives.” 1 John chapters 1 and 2 make that distinction abundantly clear and are well-worth the read. One may even directly answer Hitchens’ posit about the necessity of religion—specifically Christianity—for moral action. This would require tedious clarification due to the major and essential differences between Hitchens’ and the Bible’s understanding of morality (For examples, see Isaiah 64:6, Romans 14:23, and Hebrews 11:6). There is, however, a single way to answer the question effectively.
This method is said most succinctly in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That is the only way that people such as Christopher Hitchens and Jack will be answered: Those who are not in Christ cannot love as Christ does—by demonstrating pure and undefiled love before the Father. So then, are you a Christian? Are you in Christ? Then demonstrate pure and undefiled love before the Father by bridling your tongue, caring for those in distress, and keeping yourself unstained by the world around you in every way. In doing so, those who think like Christopher Hitchens and Jack will be decidedly answered. That is the mission to which we are called to devote ourselves as Christians.
Suggested Readings: 1 John 1-2, James 1:26-27