“Religion Very Harmful to People”
By Udo Middelmann
Saturday, March 10, 2007 -- My recent trip of lectures in the United States coincided with the publication of two books accusing religion in general and Christianity in particular of the harm they do in people’s lives. Richard Dawkins has been at it again, this time with The God Delusion. Sam Harris mocks Christians with his Letter to a Christian Nation.
Both books, and I am sure others as well, suggest the harmful influence of religion in the lives of people. I am reminded of an incident in which I pointed that out to a government official who was startled by this admission.
We were holding a teachers’ training session in small provincial capital north of Kazan in the forest region of central Russia. Observers had been delegated by the officials of the town to check that we were not being missionaries or violating the separation of church and state by talking to the teachers about Christianity as a foundation of civil society.
Man in Gray Gov’t Suit
My first lecture suggested that each child needs encouragement to find answers to the basic questions of life. Through education teachers lead a child out (Latin: “educare”) into an independent, responsible life. The liberal arts have as their goal the liberation of a child from inherited or imposed views.
Education, discussion, reading, and inquiry help a person know what to think and believe about life and death, about the individual and the group, about morality and power, about the real and the imaginary. Such are the questions posed by life in everyone’s mind, and various worldviews give differing answers to them.
I pointed out how Marxism, Islam, and African tribal religions answer these questions and what kind of cultural realities flow from their view of things. Then I contrasted that with a Biblical view, not a religion, not certain forms of practice (such as candles, fragrances, standing or sitting, eyes open or closed), but just simply how the Christian, informed by the Bible, looks at these realities of human existence.
Arriving later at the school where lunch was served, I noticed a gentleman in a government–issue gray suit, sat down next to him, and asked him through an interpreter whether he had enjoyed the morning session. He responded, saying that he did not like religion. At that point I reached for his hand, shook it forcefully and said that I did not either. We had something in common; we both recognize that religion is very harmful to people.
I suggested he look at what religion had done to the Indian sub-continent or to Africa. I then added that Marxism had also become a religion with dismal results in his own country. The basic questions of life had not been answered in a way that gave reason, hope, and dignity to human beings.
He was, of course, taken aback. But then we talked a bit longer, and I was able to explain more about the truth of Christianity, relating it to the way things are, from the mannishness of people to the form of nature itself. God, religion, and faith can indeed be a delusion, an imagined projection of wishful thinking.
Inadequacy of Dawkins’ Religion
One can read events in light of one’s belief, rather than adjusting one’s belief to what is real, whether in Scripture or in history. The 19th century philosopher Feuerbach suggested that all religion is a projection. Man, he taught, has evolved a consciousness that makes him wish there were someone out there. So he projects a god in his own image, whose existence lasts only as long as someone is willing to believe it.
Such a god, of course, is the source of all kinds of human evil. In the name of that god, each person can advocate anything he likes. It is a real temptation to have one up on the neighbor, to appear justified in one’s views or actions, to use the name of one’s god for purposes of power, dominion, and lifestyle.
Christians are not free from that temptation. The second of the Ten Commandments prohibits the use the name of God, any god, to back up one’s own vanity and to prevent just that kind of claim of divine authority. Vanity is present in an empty claim of authority such as this.
But Feuerbach then, and Dawkins today, fails to explain how Man supposedly evolved into something that requires the existence of a higher being. They both fail to explain how Man is different from the animal; how freedom, thought, and moral discernment arrive out of a closed system of biology, of cause and effect, and of instinct and natural behavior.
Form has never been able to be the cause of freedom. Determinism does not result in indeterminacy. Yet it is in the freedom of the mind that people choose either to bow to the Creator of this universe intellectually and morally, or to invent deities, ideologies, and explanations of their own design.
This freedom of the mind has its origin not in natural selection, but in the creative act of a personal God, Who chose to make Man, male and female, in His image. Eternal matter does not produce personality. Only an eternal person can achieve that.
The Biblical account of a specific creation of Man makes room for the kind of person Feuerbach can talk about -- one who is able to imagine gods. The God of the Bible precedes Man. God comes first, and Man has a need to know God, the Creator.
If Man refuses to acknowledge the God of the Bible, he will invent his own gods to fill the vacuum. That is how religions start, and why, in contrast to this, Christianity and Judaism are not religions.
Dawkins is right to point out the devastating effects of religions in people’s lives. The problem with this is only that he has made his view of things his own religion.
And as such it is harmful to him, for it excludes any final basis for morals, including his complaint about the negative effects of religion. If everything in the life and mind of people is part of natural development, there can be no objection to it. If objection is made, it is of no importance and obligates no one, for the “offense” called religion is itself merely a result of natural development.
Atheist Richard Dawkins: My Critics Not Humble, Unlike Me, by Richard Dawkins
What Is Man?, by Udo Middelmann
Plantinga Reivews Dawkins' Bluster, by Rick Pearcey
Dawkins: Nazi Eugenics “May Not Be Bad”?, by Rick Pearcey
Udo Middelmann is president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation, which is based in Gryon, Switzerland. He is author of Pro-Existence and The Market-Driven Church. His new book, The Innocence of God, will be published in September. This article is adapted from Footnotes, Winter 2007, with permission.