Islam and the New Testament

              One of the perennial arguments that I find Muslims making is that the gospels have been altered and changed since they were originally written. Usually this is argued from discussions of textual criticism, and it has one major advantage for the Muslim apologist: textual criticism is a highly technical area of New Testament studies, and most people don’t really understand the subject well enough to refute their arguments, of course, this also goes for those making the argument being raised that the gospels and New Testament letters did not originally teach the deity of Christ.  

 

              There are usually two ploys made to make an argument against the Bible, the first is to discussion a few serious textual issues, and the second is to discuss the number of textual issues. The latter is largely unimportant, since most textual problems are so minor, they don’t even impact the way the text is translated. For example, in Greek the adjective can be placed after the noun or before, and it’s not uncommon for a scribe to make the mistake of reversing the order. Similarly, some forms are interchangeable and it is very easy for a scribe to confuse one for the other. This is particularly common in the New Testament because the books of the New Testament are so well documented from the standpoint of Textual Criticism. The New Testament has more evidence for its transmission than any other body of literary work from the ancient world, and it is closer in time to the authorship than anything comparable in the ancient world. Because there are so many extant copies, there are simply more minor scribal errors that are the result.

The second line of argumentation is to take four to six passages where there are textual issues involving the deity of Christ, and somehow equating this with the teaching of the whole. The problem with this last part is that it has a big emotional weight, but to someone who studies the Bible in the long term, it becomes apparent that these issues are really not that significant for Christian theology, because there are so many passages that corroborate the same doctrines. For example, I once had a Muslim argue that without 1 John 5:7, there was no proof of the Trinity, I find this rather interesting, however, since the passage was not cited by the trinitarians at the council of Nicea – if it is such an important point, why did they not quote it? Nor are these passages proof of a conspiracy (and if they were, there is no proof of what type of conspiracy we have, some Christians argue there was a conspiracy to remove the deity of Christ from the Bible, there is no good evidence for either position).

 

              The thing that the Islamic apologist is missing is that the doctrine of the Deity of Christ is written throughout the New Testament, they are arguing, essentially, that four to six textual critical problems is sufficient reason to believe that hundreds of texts have been forged and altered despite a complete lack of evidence of such a forgery; this becomes a conspiracy theory of epic proportions.  This is simply not credible, particularly given how many copies of the New Testament in existence, to argue that such a change occurred and of there is no evidence in the thousands of copies of the text is simply not a credible argument. For the argument to work, they would need to be able to demonstrate that most of the passages discussed in the deity of Christmas are later additions, not merely enough that they can be counted easily on one”s fingers.

Hiroshima and C S Lewis

Wars will always raise ethical questions, both in terms of when it is justified, and for actions taken during a conflict, justified or not. One of the most prolifically questioned actions during war was the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two events have raised numerous arguments and defenses over the years, and the questions are not as easily answered as they might appear at first. For example, Japan was actively training its civilian populace to attack American troops upon an invasion of the home islands,[1] and it is often noted that more Japanese lives[2] would have been lost without the dropping of Atomic weapons (and certainly there would have been more American casualties in such a scenario), but does this justify the action? How does a nation weigh decision between protecting one’s own troops and avoiding harm to civilians? Is there a distinction between the bombing of Hiroshima (the site of a major Japanese army base) and Nagasaki (a purely industrial city)? Does the possibility that this was about revenge for the numerous war crimes committed by the Japanese against allied servicemen and Chinese civilians change the moral and ethical dimensions of the discussion? While these are important questions, I think there is a more interesting one: would we be having the same discussion if Japan won the war by dropping a weapon of mass destruction on San Francisco?

This is not an arbitrary question; Japan did have an active atomic weapons program that was somewhat hampered by problems in needed materials; the Japanese military was actively seeking Uranium for its nuclear program, including requests to its ally Germany.[3] While it’s atomic program was not successful, the Japanese biological warfare program was quite effective. During the war, Japanese units (particularly the notorious unit 731) infected human beings with various pathogens, and then performed autopsy’s without anesthetic on the infected to understand the mechanisms of the diseases. Japan also used biological weapons against China, and did in fact have a plan to drop rats with infected fleas onto San Francisco in hopes that it would kill tens of thousands of American civilians later in 1945 (a plan known as “Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night”), a plan that was at the least foiled by the end of the war (and Japan might not have had the resources to carry out the attack by this point anyway).

While we cannot know precisely what might have been, or what ethical questions might have been raised given such a scenario, we do have a good idea about the matter. Japan, as a matter of policy, still denies or refuses to apologize for war crimes committed during the second world war,[4] much to the irritation of her Asian neighbors. These include not only the possibly hundreds of thousands of Chinese killed by biological weapons, but also comfort women, the rape of Nanking, abuse of POWs, etc. There have even been controversies involving Japanese governments suppressing facts about atrocities in Japanese history textbooks. Whatever else might be true, the Shinto/Buddhist worldview does not seem to produce openly the same questions about war conduct that the West, under the influence of Christianity’s discussions of a just war and just conduct in war find themselves compelled to ask. Or rather, the Shinto/Buddhist tradition means those questions get resisted – after all, Japan continues to find it necessary to deny the allegations not only to those abroad, but to its own people, which sounds a bit like guilt, albeit misplaced guilt.[5]

C S Lewis, in discussing the objectivity of morality in Mere Christianity, notes that subjectivist moral systems may work in theory, but we cannot help treat morality as objective, at least when we are on the receiving end. The Japanese government demonstrates this when they note their own victimization of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but will not admit to victimizing Chinese laborers, soldiers, women and children. This is not unique, the nations of the world and people in general are always ready to proclaim their victimhood or the victimhood of their ancestors, but rarely do they take responsibilities for their own aggressors, the natural response is to justify actions out of personal protection or tribal loyalty. This is in fact an unusual moral contribution of Christianity, Christians question not only the behavior of others for perceived gain or restitution, but that of ourselves, as well.

 

[1]This raises to my own mind a question I don’t see asked, does this mean that the civilian populace were still civilians, or were they transformed into a militia?

[2]One additional difficulty, of course, is that it is unknowable whether it is true or not; while the battle of Okinawa suggests this might have been the case, as does the philosophy of Japanese militarists, it is hard to say precisely what would have happened.

[3]There is a famous incident involving the surrender of a German Sub, U-234 which was carrying Uranium Oxide along with other weapons between a nearly defeated Germany and her ally in Japan.

[4]To be clear, this is neither an indictment of the Japanese government nor an attempt to dismiss ethical questions about the atomic bombs, questions I am uncertain how to answer from a Biblical ethic; questions of how to wage war appear far more complex during the conflict then afterwards when historians can evaluate matters with more facts at hand. Moderns, for example, have a grasp on the horrors of radiation poisoning that the generals and politicians in 1945 were unaware of at the time. Nor, in point of fact is the US innocent in the cover-up of Japanese biological weapons, the US government appears to have protected war criminals involved in the Japanese biological warfare in exchange for knowledge of that program, just as various narratives limiting guilt of Imperial Japan to key military officials were useful fictions for the rebuilding of the nation.

[5]To be clear, this guilt is misplaced; there may be shame in an ancestors sin, or the dismay that always disappoints us when those we love profoundly disappoint us, but this is not guilt, as the Old Testament defines so clearly, we are not to punish the children for the guilt of the fathers.

Christopher Hitchens is a Liar: Christianity and Slavery

One of the things I noted in my recent read through of Christopher Hitchen’s book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything [sic] was the serious problem of a large number of factual errors.[1] While reading through the book, I noted his section on the New Testament and the Old Testament, and numerous errors of fact. There are additional issues of disagreement (for example, the use of the term religion) but in general, these problems mar the entire book.

In general, I tend to avoid ad hominem argumentation; I’d rather assume these mistakes are purely accidental oversights; New Testament studies is a massive and controversial field of studies, and I would not expect him to have greater expertise in that field. Yet, Hitchens’s discussion of slavery makes this preference to assume the best difficult. Hitchens implies that it was free thinkers that ended slavery, with a few Christian hangers on, but here, his work with the evidence is so shoddy, that it is inconceivable that this mistake is accidental.

Significantly, Hitchens seems to only discuss the United States, but as a former British citizen this mistake is nearly inconceivable (at least if it were accidental). American slavery is neither unique nor unusual. The US’s story is not unusual for the era, sadly slavery of Africans and Indians was common in the French, English, Spanish and Dutch colonies in the Americas. In point of fact, slavery has been nearly ubiquitously practiced throughout most of world history, at least until slavery was largely outlawed in the west, largely at Christian instigation.[2] What is unique is not that some Christians still defended the ancient barbarism in the 1860’s, what is unique is that Christianity historically provided the impetus to end slavery. During the abolitionist period it was largely Christians in Europe who pushed for the eradication of slavery in European colonies.[3] For example, in Hitchens own native England, the opposition to slavery was distinctly an enterprise of Evangelicals within the Anglican tradition and various dissenting churches, including the most notably figure, William Wilberforce (as Hitchen’s surely learned as both a child and at while at Oxford, or for that matter the film Amazing Grace a short two years before his book was published).[4] Of course, discussing this period doesn’t bode well for Hitchens’s case; selective choice of sources became necessary.

                  Nor is Hitchens correct in his discussion of the United States. For example, he admits that “a few Menonites and Quakers in America began to call for abolition.”[5] While this sounds like a reasonable concession, it is actually a radical understatement, and groups, such as Puritans in New England are completely ignored. It was, in fact, largely religious groups that led to the abolition of slavery in the Northern States and organized most of the anti-slavery societies of the period. Hitchens focuses on a few select individuals, late in the period, particular John Brown and Abraham Lincoln (who was not an abolitionist until after the election of 1860[6]); of course there are some problems with this approach. First, the subjects (as he himself admits) are muddy and not necessarily the types of free thinkers needed to make his case. Brown, if he were a free thinker, is useful only when there are no credible abolitionists to discuss. Brown likely provided emotional fears leading to southern secession, by building up already existing fears southerners had about a repeat of the Haitian Massacre of 1804 in the American South. Secondarily Hitchens, like many modern authors, fails to understand that free thinkers were often influenced by Christian thought and morality in a way that modern atheist consider inconceivable. (For example, Thomas Jefferson, who was probably a deist, thought the Bible to be a book that was admirable for instructions of morality, Benjamin Franklin, who almost certainly was a deist was a great admirer John Whitfield and sought to emulate Jesus in many respects). A third issue of course, is in studying Lincoln and Brown so intently he shows a better than average knowledge of the subject, so like his ignorance of Wilberforce, his errors appear to be intentional; his arguments then are not merely bad, but fraudulent.

APPENDIX – BASIC SOURCES

Hitchen’s main arguments are found on pages 177-79 of when it comes to abolition.

There are two invaluable books that discuss the Christian roots of the abolitionist movement, links are to the Amazon listing.

Philip Sampson – 6 Myths about Christianity and Western Civilization.

Rodney Stark – For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery

There is also a history on South Carolina that I have found useful in understanding the development of slavery in this country, though it does not discuss some of the more crucial moments that happened outside of that state, but Edgar does a good job of presenting the issue in terms that seeks to understand (even as he does not condon) the very human causes that led to this institution, it is also perhaps a reminder that our fears and baser natures can lead us to inhumanity we would not consider in other areas of our lives. I heard it read by the Author on NPR, if you can find the recording, it’s well worth listening too, my love of books on CD and Tape extends largely from that programming.

Walter Edgars South Carolina: A History.

                  [1] These include 1. Outright mistakes, for example he argued that Jesus was born no earlier than 4 AD (most scholars date Jesus birth to 6-4 AD), and that the Talmud is the oldest book of monotheistic religions. Some might dismiss this as typos or minutia, but what it raises the question of competency – we would not afterall, trust an “expert” on US history, who noted the importance of Benjamin Franklin’s presidency. At this time I would not borrow from Hitchen’s arguments on either Eastern religions or Islam; if he has made such serious mistakes in discussing the Old Testament and the New, then I consider his work in areas I cannot verify to be suspect. 2 He often confuses theories as facts, for example, he implies the gospels were written decades after the events they record and that it was not written by eyewitnesses, but this is a theory, it is not a proven fact, and the external evidence (ie quotations and discussions by the fathers) conflicts with this theory. 3. There are additionally problems with the fact that many of the arguments he makes do not follow from the facts he deduces, for example, he spends time discussing textual criticism of the Pericope de Adultura, but this does not invalidate the New Testament. A good rule of thumb would be, if Christian theologians have known a fact for centuries, and have not understood that fact to be a problem for the Christian faith, it likely is not a problem for the Christian faith.

[2]When slavery ended in Western Europe will depend on how to interpret serfdom. Serfs are often compared to slaves, but serfs at least had recognized rights and their lords understood duties to their serfs. The same cannot be said for slaves in earlier pagan Rome, or for that matter to slavery in the Americas. Before the colonization of America, much of Christian Europe had officially outlawed slavery. A loophole, however was used and later expanded; these earlier codes applied only to national boundaries, not to colonies. Of course, throughout Europe, the theory and practice of a serf’s rights might differ incredibly, but it was at the least a start to recognize that both poor and great were made in the image of God.

[3]Hitchens regularly makes a link between Christianity and Imperialism, but fails to note that in many cases, colonial governments were generally unfriendly to missionary endeavors, because missionaries were concerned with people, not profits, and tended to therefore cause problems for those who were interested in profits, and not people. This is true both with Catholics in Brazil, and Anglicans in India.

[4] In 1807, the slave trade was outlawed (and the royal navy began hunting slave ships), and in 1833 slavery was completely abolished in the English colonies, although, unfortunately, colonialism itself was not.

                  [5]Hitchens 177.

[6]Abolitionists favored laws ending slavery immediately, Lincoln campaigned on preventing the spread of slavery further west, believing slavery, if not given the ability to spread, would die of its own accord in time. Lincoln also appears to have believed that preserving the Union was more important than eliminating slavery.

Hitchens is not Profound: How Atheism Has Fallen

I apologize for being away for a while, but between family, school, work, and a paper I was working on for the regional ETS meeting, I’ve been a bit busy, and unfortunately, Truth in the Trenches is the shoe that tends to fall.

 

For a class in Apologetic ethics, I’m currently reading Christopher Hitchens god [sic] is not Great: How religion poisons everything, although I am increasingly convinced the book should have been titled Hitchens is not Profound: How Atheism has Fallen. Perhaps I am merely in a cranky mood, but from the descriptions I had anticipated a atheist giant, such as has not been seen since Antony Flew became a Deist, but rather than a giant, I find a lilliputian. Instead of a carefully crafted case, I find constant errors in fact,[1] Non-sequitars,[2] strawmen,[3] and moral outrage presented as if it were an argument, despite his inability to ground the basis for that outrage. It is the sheer number of bad arguments he makes that give countering him any difficulty whatsoever, it takes longer to counter 10 bad arguments than one good one, and Americans generally don’t have much of an attention span. Hitchens is a skilled writer, there is no doubt about that, but then, the fact that skilled writers write fiction demonstrates this is no grounds for proof.

But the thing about Hitchens, is he demonstrates the need for Christians in general to understand their faith better, he throws down a gauntlet that most Christians should be able to pick up ably, but unfortunately aren’t because they don’t know their own faith as well as they should. As I’ve noted before, when I began studying NTI, and found the evidence to be stronger than I realized, and I often question why I did not learn important facts in High School, and I was the precocious one. This, of course, would have benefits beyond apologetics, but it saddens me when people do not know how to read the Bible for themselves; particularly since Jesus said we should love the Lord our God with all our minds.

Hitchens is considered formidable because his obvious polish meets no resistance – even a gray plastic sword can appear in the movies to be sharp when it is waved around and cuts nothing but air, it is only when it is smashed into a wall that it’s weakness becomes obvious. Scripture tells us we have no need to fear, and from Hitchens we can see this in action, if we at least seek to know His Word.

            [1]I never knew, for example, that the Talmud, which was composed after the New Testament was completed, was the oldest monotheistic text, nor did I know that the gnostic gospels were as old as the canonical ones, and this makes me wonder why the earlier gnostics, such as Marcion, ignored them so entirely. The only Biblical scholar I have seen quoted is Bart Ehrman, and similarly, Hitches seems enormously impressed with textual criticism, but arguing that Christianity is false because of textual criticism is like arguing that fried eggs disproves the existence of a chicken—just because the egg has gone through a process of time before reaching your table, this does not mean a chicken never laid it.
            [2]For example, on the basis of the fact that divisions in the Balkans include religious ones, he argues this is a religious war. It is true that the Serbs and Croats differ in sect (the Serbs are Orthadox, and the Croats Roman Catholic); I can just imagine some Croat fighter shouting, “for the Filioque. . . “ actually I can’t imagine that at all. It does not follow that simply because disputants in a war have different religions that this is the cause, nor can the identification with a religious group be a cause. After all, even in Ireland, religion is not the only difference between the Republic of Ireland or Ulster.

[3]He never comes close to adequately dealing with the fall, which means his discussion of design and the human condition with temptation is basically a false Christianity.

Utilitarianism and Human Rights

                  One of the more common responses to the question of whether there is an objective moral authority (such as God) is the objection that a society’s rules are really developed because of their utility in maintaining that society rooted in a Darwinian explanation of how they arose. They not only advocate this view, but promote it as being better ethically than the old-fashioned Christian views of objective morality. And yet, these same persons hold strong views about “social justice” (forgetting of course that everyone is for social justice, the distinctions within our society about social justice comes down to identifying and defining the concept,[1] not whether we are for it or against it). Two of the big issues involved in many “social justice” movements are the very real evils and ills of slavery and colonialism; and yet, one can ultimately either believe in utilitarian ethics on the one hand or that slavery and colonialism are wrong on the other, one cannot ultimately hold to both.

 

Utilitarianism and Slavery

                  Before the industrial revolution, slavery was a very useful institution. It is often forgotten that slavery was, in its initial development, a solution to serious problems. For example, one of the world’s most prolific causes of slavery was the problem of what to do with prisoners of war. One could kill the POWs or follow an old custom of wiping out all the men and boys of a city, but of course, cities have alliances with other cities, including familial and tribal ties that might lead to retaliation. One could let them go, but that gives the city the opportunity to rearm. You cannot afford as a city to maintain the costs of housing POWs indefinitely – there are no machines to make it easier to produce extra food, for example, and no pipes making it easier to transport extra water. Worse manpower will have to be diverted to guard the prisoners, making necessary production of the necessities of life even more difficult. Since wars happen regularly, the sheer number of prisoners could bankrupt a city-state, the solution then is slavery, it is more humane (at least initially) that wiping out a city, but it is relatively cost efficient.

 

                  The utilitarian faced with the usefulness of slavery in the ancient world might instead argue that it might have been a necessary institution, but in this country things were different. And yet, this fails to recognize the difficulties perceived by many southerners, including Thomas Jefferson; once slavery had begun, there was a high, and perhaps dangerous costs of ending the institution. One of the instigating factors in the ever more restrictive slave codes, for example, was the fear that the Haitian genocide[2] could be repeated here, even if people who have a personal stake in their work with machines improving their abilities to work are more productive than slaves, the danger to society in releasing slaves gives one pause. Slavery might be dehumanizing, but then, a utilitarian has no grounds to appeal to this factor in their deliberations. At best he can argue it is an institution which is no longer as useful in the modern day—but to do so is to also admit, circumstances may arise when this particular institution might regain its viability or necessity.

 

Utilitarianism and Colonialism

 

                  If the difficulty of opposing slavery from a societal utilitarian ideal is difficult, opposing colonialism is much worse. Britain, one of the most prolific colonial powers is the prime example. The British Empire was one of the most prolific colonial powers, boasting that the sun never set on their empire. This empire was a major part of British manufacturing power, providing raw materials at cheap rates during a time when Britain was the greatest manufacturing power in the world. This in fact kept them competitive with the United States, as our nation was naturally blessed with untapped natural resources not natively available in Britain. It also furnished and afforded Britain both the means and the need to develop what was at the time the greatest navy in the world. Her dominion also allowed her to develop a larger civilization than the size of her island allowed, and during the first world war, British troops were sustained by colonial troops; this was also the beginning of the end for the empire as dominion troops began to question why they were interested in fighting in a European war. Churchill begged for colonial troops to join the War against Germany in Europe, and former colonies were slow to answer. The process of the breaking up of the British empire was ended after the second world war, and it also brought a close to the strength of British manufacturing. and the loss of the empire was a factor in the British Navy becoming less of a factor in the Cold War period than it was during the World Wars.

Nor can they argue that this was still good because it benefited the former dominions, in the first place, from the standpoint of a utilitarian, this would not necessarily be a concern for the British people. In and of itself, the question for utilitarianism is not whether the system is kind or brutal, but whether it is effective or ineffective for preserving and growing a society. Whatever else might be said of colonialism, it certainly was effective for the British, and perhaps for many of the former dominions as well; it is difficult to argue that Kenya or Zimbabwe are better off now than before. Thus, the benefits to India and Australia do not necessarily outweigh the harms to so many others.

Conclusions

So where does this leave us? I am not arguing in favor of either slavery or colonialism; both were hideous institutions. Rather, the moral calculus of the utilitarian, who tries to build that ethic by appealing to an assumed Darwinian process is what must go, along with resultant growing resurgence of a new eugenics movement in the ethics departments of American universities. While such an explanation is interesting, it breaks down when we start examining it; Darwinian views of society cannot explain ending slavery in the West or ending colonial oppression. In fact, the utilitarian builds a case that could, potentially, see these two evils revisiting the west in response to some future crises.

Nor can anyone truly argue that this is true of Christianity as well (playing a game of “tit for tat”). While some Christians historically participated in both, neither is possible from a strictly Christian worldview. Christianity values not just societies, but individuals as the handiwork of God, made in His image. Jesus is recorded (in Matthew 19) as noting that the Old Testament law itself allowed divorce; this was not because divorce was morally good, but because Israel, being human, would not receive the covenant if allowances were not made; instead the law mitigated some of the damage of the institution. Because Jesus argued this from a “state of creation” argument, it would seem that this would apply to slavery, as well (since just as man was made in a united pair, man was made free). It is difficult to reconcile the racist undertones of colonialism or 19th century slavery with Paul’s epistles. Thus, Christians participating in the cruelties of colonialism or in slavery were what I have elsewhere termed “inconsistent monsters,” because their actions are inconsistent with the nature of Christian theology and thought.


[1]Many on the left, for example, are strong advocates of a Socialist state in the name of social justice, but libertarians, following Ayn Rand, will argue against socialism, because the system is “unjust;” often comparing socialism to slavery.

[2]The Southern response, of course, was not a rational one. If you are afraid that you’re slaves will grow angry, rise up, and murder your family, then how is it rational to use increasingly repressive measures which will only stoke the anger which would begin the violence you are trying to avert? Or as Jesus noted it is wiser to make peace with one who has something against you rather than to have him take you to court, an seize your properties.

Christians and the Grant County School

There is an old arrangement in philosophical arguments, where an “In Principle” argument is followed by an “In Fact” argument. Recently, I discussed the principles of religious freedom in public schools, but now I want to address some points raised making accusations of about alleged attempts to favor one religion in the Grant county school system. I cannot argue what has really happened in these schools, I don’t work for the district, and my son is too little to attend school yet, but I can demonstrate that the accusations, at least in the form we have them today lack substance, and therefore unless facts can be marshaled, the complaint lacks merit.

Let’s start by clearly stating it is not the job of a Christian or an apologist to justify the practices of any public school; since this is a complaint it is the responsibility of the northern Kentucky freethinkers to demonstrate where specifically there is a meaningful violation of the law, or of constitutional principles. Thus, merely referencing a religious text because it is “religious” (such as a complaint about students reading a passage from Genesis relating to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah), is meaningless without more information than presented in the complaint. Is this merely one viewpoint on an issue presented in contrast with several others,[1] is it some presentation of an alleged development within human thought,[2] is it a literary question comparing the text to the style presented in some other text,[3] or is it included in a discussion of the archeology of the region?[4] Without more specific information, the charge must be dismissed as lacking sufficient evidence to even be considered. Similarly, a passing reference is made to an incident at some prior point in time, a book on evolution was said to be inappropriate by school authorities, the reason why the book is inappropriate is not stated, we are left to assume it was the subject matter (biological evolution), but such an assumption is not necessarily correct. Some books on “evolution” are actually books pushing religious naturalism,[5] such as Richard Dawkins The Blind Watchmaker, older works are explicitly racist (including Darwin’s The Descent of Man), and some contain elements of a eugenicist agenda, which might very well be offensive to students who have relatives with disabilities, or are themselves disabled. Nor do we know why the student allegedly brought the book to school, which is a rather interesting question to ignore.

 

Additionally, the complaint focuses greatly on a youth pastor who also works in the school system as a physical education teacher, and presents the claims of the Church as proof that this man should not work at the school as a teacher. And yet, it is not uncommon for pastors, youth pastors, or others to have outside jobs (such personnel in Christian circles are commonly referred to as “tent-workers,” or “bi-vocational ministers.”) The question of whether this teacher is also a minister is irrelevant, (in fact, we could ask for the clarification of whether the freethinkers are suggesting that Christians in general should be discriminated against during the hiring practices, or just those involved in bi-vocational ministry). Unless, they can demonstrate that the teacher does not understand the distinctions between instructional periods and non-instructional periods, they do not have a case. They have not intimated that he is leading the students in prayer nor that he is preaching during class period. Similarly, they have complained that this same man and his wife are involved in the Association of Christian Athletes in the High School. And yet, it needs to be remembered, most organizations on high school campuses are required in many districts to have a faculty advisor of some sort.[6] They have presented no indications that he has broken any rules of decorum or any laws simply by serving in such a capacity.

 

Additionally there were complaints about advertisements and newsletters. The latter provide no context to be useful at all. In one case, it was a picture of students praying at the flagpole. There has been no evidence presented that the school’s administration or faculty initiated this prayer session; otherwise a newsletter covering the event in a newsletter is simply an example of journalism showing interest in the student’s activities. Similarly complaints were leveled that a student was allowed to make a statement in the newsletter of that student’s own faith, but we don’t have any evidence of why this particular student was chosen. Was he elected by his peers? Was it because he had organized the campaign against heroin at the school, and chose to speak about his motivations? Was it drawn by name? Unless it is demonstrated that the school’s administration chose this student in order to present a pro-Christian message then the newsletter’s reference does not make a case for the freethinkers.

 

A display of Bible’s involving the heroin epidemic was also a part of the complaint, but again, we are left without sufficient context (the display of Bibles actually appears from the photographs to be more accurately Bible’s displayed along side other materials).[7] We are not told who organized the display (students of faculty) what the other materials presented are, what the display of the Bible’s is intended to mean, etc. Without this context the complaint is meaningless.

 

Finally, two advertisements and a display of Bibles are noted, one is a basketball tournament at the Dry Ridge Baptist Church, and the second is a tutoring service by a Methodist church being advertised. Unless things have changed from my own high school days, it is not uncommon for schools to advertise community events, particularly those aimed at youth. Someone may have a case to argue this is unreasonable for the school to advertise the Baptist church’s basketball tournament if, and only if, it can be demonstrated that other groups were turned down under similar conditions, yet no one has suggested that a local mosque or synagogue has requested to advertise a sporting event and had their request denied. In fact, to advertise events at secular venues, but to deny advertisement at similar community events held at Churches would be explicit discrimination. The other point, was a Methodist church that offered a tutoring service to the students. Yet, the advertisement explicitly states that the school was not endorsing the church, and again, no evidence of discrimination against other tutoring services has been offered.

 

The case, as it has been presented on the Freethinkers own website is not a case at all. Without more evidence, facts, or additional information, Christians should watch this matter very closely, and consider whether the schools response should merit a lawsuit of discrimination on the grounds that said response would constitute discrimination against religious students.

            [1]To be clear, it is equally wrong under the constitution for the schools to take an antireligious stance as it is a proreligious stance, but describing the stances taken by various worldviews, including theistic ones, is not actually a violation of any principle. In fact, if only nontheistic worldviews are presented, then the school is advocating a position that God does not exist.

[2]If this is the case, I strongly object to the presentation myself. Students should not be taught the chronological snobbery nor the myth of progress popular among many progressives and atheists; such constitutes a clear violation of the establishment clause. Nor should appeals to the methods of the religionsgeschichte schule, or its modern counterpart, mythicist interpretations on the Bible be presented in public schools, on the dual grounds that it would be teaching a specific approach to religion and it would be based in bad scholarship.

[3]If this be the case, I would again object, since this may employ an approach to religious literature that does not maintain the required neutrality of a public school system. See the above note on mythacist interpretations of the Bible.

[4]Again, based on the way the presentation is made, in this case it is the Christian and not the atheist that has the greater grounds for objection.

[5]To be clear, I am not against such books being allowed on campus. My opinion is that they should be handled on the same grounds as Christian examples on the same topic; The Blind Watchmaker should be treated in the same manner as Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

            [6]My own experience in High School included a Christian Youth Club in my sophomore year, though I was a little conservative at the time for the group, and did not involve myself later in the group, to my own regret. The faculty advisor was also my algebra teacher, and I never would have known he were a Christian if he had not been involved with the club. He generally sat in the background, provided advise as needed or when asked, and let us do as we thought best.

            [7]This and the student picture and interview are both discussed in the complaint as related to discussions related to Northern Kentucky’s Heroin epidemic.

Christian rights on school grounds

There is currently an article on the WCPO news website complaining about Christian activity in public schools. Though I am a Baptist, I’m against religion being taught in public schools.   My grounds are that I do not trust the government to accurately present Christian thought, especially when taught by a non-Christian teacher.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe students have the right to organize and express their faith. Yes, on school grounds, which belong to the taxpayers. There are several important principles in play when it comes to Christian young people being allowed to pray around a flag-pole, organize a Bible club, or vocally express their faith on school grounds.

The immutability of rights

First, it must be acknowledged that the rights of American citizenship are present in the public as well as in the private sphere of life.   A student does not give up his first amendment rights when he walks onto public property; though, of course, he must obey the rules of decorum and good manners so as not to infringe on the rights of other students.

To argue that Christians must not honor the name of Jesus Christ or live as if Jesus and God are not the center of their existence is to maintain that the government has the authority to require Christians to commit hypocrisy. To use the language of our founders, it argues that government has the right to prohibit the free exercise of religion. Freedom of religion does not mean we have to limit religious thought or sentiment to Sunday services only, or to specific ritual duties; it also means we are free to live a righteous life.[1]

Discrimination

Secondarily, it is often argued that this is somehow “discriminatory” to non-Christian students. This is nonsense, as can be seen by a chess club. No one would argue that the existence of a chess club in an elementary school discriminates against children who do not play chess, nor is it somehow discriminatory if some children choose to play chess during their lunch period. Certainly, there is no reason for non-chess-playing students to feel “threatened” or “fearful.”   No one is harmed by Christians forming a Bible club, provided that non-Christian groups are given the same right to organize.

But, some will say, it is discriminatory that club officers must be Christians; again, this is analogous to other clubs. Spanish clubs do not discriminate against anyone when they require the president (or members) to be able to speak or read Spanish, nor is it discriminatory when the Chess club requires officers to be able to actually play chess. Such rules do not infringe on the rights of other students. In fact, in a sense, not allowing such basic rules can lead to true infringements or negations of rights. Suppose a group of students who prefer checkers infiltrates a chess club, elects one of their own as a president, and promptly rules that all meetings will henceforth play checkers instead of chess. This would not enhance the checkers players rights; they already had every right to form their own club and enjoy the same rights as the chess players, to play their preferred game during non-instructional periods. The only persons who would be affected are the chess players, who find that their own ability to enjoy their preferred game on campus has been diminished.

Similarly, Christian clubs who require officers to uphold some form of the Christian faith are not discriminating against anyone else, since Muslims, Hindus and atheists have the same rights to organize clubs based on their beliefs. Alterations to these principles would merely diminish the rights of each to espouse his beliefs on campus.

Separation of Church and State

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, the argument most often raised ultimately should be understood to backfire against the opponents of Bible clubs. There is a long standing debate on the first amendment and the separation of church and State, but rather than going into the history of the first amendment, we need to note if there is a separation of Church and State, that is no reason to forbid Bible clubs.

Schools are already necessarily engaged peripherally in religion, and therefore it is the State, not the Church, that should be removed from campus if we hold to a hardened, immutable separation. It is impossible for a school — public or private — to form any curriculum without being affected, intentionally or unintentionally, by religious beliefs.[2] As various scholars of worldview now admit, our view of the world influences not only our understanding of what is true, but also our rules and our means of judging how we know something to be true.

Therefore, if we Americans are to take the first amendment as an absolute separation of Church and state, then I would argue that it is the state, and not the church, that has no proper role in the education of children; and it is the atheist, and not the Christian who is ultimately violating the principle. Atheists have long sought to use the public schools as a point to indoctrinate others into their worldview, as is explicitly admitted in the original humanist manifesto, authored by Thomas Dewey (a major influence on the modern educational establishment).

This should be understood as explicit religious indoctrination done at state expense; it has been done by using of modern myths, such as the false belief that medieval Christians believed the Earth was flat. The atheists are effectively creating a state secularist religion, something that is itself a violation of the separation principle.

This being the case, there are no principled grounds for expelling Christian demonstrations in the public square.

 

 

 

            [1] It could be objected that children, as minors, do not have the full development of their rights, and this is true as far as it goes. (After all, we don’t allow elementary aged children to apply for concealed carry permits.) But that argument doesn’t show any reason to forbid Christians from organizing a Bible club on school grounds if it’s outside of classroom hours. It is the parents, not the government, who are the proper guardians of a child’s rights. Thus, such an argument is functionally limited to suggesting children should have parents sign a permission slip to join a Bible club, not to argue children cannot have one.

[2]Examples include:

  • Any discussion of the history of the United States or Europe must of course address Christianity, and however these questions are to be answered, the teachers, textbook writers, and planners of curriculum presentation of western history will be influenced by whether they think Christianity is true, or false. Similarly, the study of the history of the Middle East will be conditioned on one’s understanding of Islam.
  • The choice of, and commentary about, literature in English classes will similarly be explicitly affected by the teacher’s understanding of Christianity and other religions. How, for example, can Shakespeare be discussed without mentioning the English Bible, and what are we to do with Milton’s paradise lost, which openly states it is a theodicy?
  • To be learned, one must wrestle with the question of whether man is basically good (but does some evil things because of some outside element entering his life), basically evil (as Christians would assert), or some assertion that denies the viability of the distinction. The answer to this question (and many other questions of religious ethics and epistemology) has massive ramifications for conclusions involving the study of psychology, sociology, anthropology, law, ethics, etc.
  • While many focus on the question of evolution in public schools in terms of religion versus science, in many senses, both sides are appealing to religious belief (religion in an academic sense is a study of various questions, including the existence of God or gods. To argue there is no God is therefore an explicit statement of religious belief). One of the very basic distinctions between atheistic evolutionists and Christians (whether they are old earth creationists, young earth creationists or theistic evolutionists) is not about the data involved in the discussion, but about the premises their religious beliefs and the way these premises impact their interpretation of the data. There are similar issues with many other scientific studies.