Evil and Religion

First, this is post #250. If someone would please blow-up a balloon or send out a little woot! woot! right there in front of your screen, I’d appreciate it. I’m curious if any of you have been reading along from the beginning. If so, (1) May God grant you mercy for the words you’ve endured, and (2) A very sincere thanks. A writer has a rough time if there’s no place for his words to land. I’m glad, every now and then, some of them land here.

Second, I have a piece over at CSLewis.com on Lent, Dickens, Temptation and, of course, Lewis.

Last week, I was privileged to enjoy my second year as an author at the Virginia Festival of the Book (which, by the way, provides three days of absolute joy for any book lover – you’ll have to visit). This year’s event, Speaking of God, cast five authors writing from various vantage points. Reading the bios and book blurbs ahead of time, I knew the conversation would be spicy. I had no idea…

At one end of the table sat two smart and highly credentialed authors proposing that their work surveyed the most recent research in neuroscience, proving (in 144 pages, which I thought quite a feat) that God is merely a construct of the human mind and suggesting that the world would be a far better place if religion simply evaporated. Seated next to them, in the worst possible position if we wanted any chance at an evening of peace and harmony, was a philosopher whose spanking new Oxford Press book argues that a theistic worldview best explains the moral truths most of us say we believe. Meanwhile the two authors remaining (myself and another fellow) sat on the far end, which turned out to be a good vantage, out of the line of fire but close enough to watch the steam blow.

Needless to say, at some point the conversation ceased to be about the books.

I was struck, however, by the dogmatic, unequivocal claim that the world would be a kindler, gentler place if we simply abandoned our naive religious commitments and recognized science for the Almighty that it is. By this view, the evil in our world is fueled by religion, and science is the savior.

I’m hearing this claim as I’m immersed in Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, penned before the SS hung him by a thin wire in the grey courtyard of a Nazi concentration camp. Hitler did not heat up the smoke stacks because he was compelled by religious fervor. Hitler, madman that he was, was driven by a worldview he found compatible with the social science of his day. I’m not suggesting it was good science (it was bad science. Good science and good religion are friends not foes – neither have anything to fear if what we’re aiming for is the truth). I’m not suggesting that science gave us Hitler. I’m simply noting that if you were forced to choose between religion and science to find blame for the Third Reich, it would be science, hands down.

Six million Jews herded to the gas chambers had religious faith. Bonhoeffer had religious faith. Hitler had another kind of faith altogether.

I’m quick to admit, sadly and with horror, that much evil has been done in the name of Christianity (and other faiths too). This is to our great shame. However, in such moments, we stand judged – and rightly so – by the claims of our faith. It is precisely the view of God as a God of justice that allows someone to (rightly) name our actions evil. If God is simply something we dream up, then religion’s vision of evil is also something we conjure. And I’ve yet to hear a compelling, coherent response as to how, yanking that foundation, we reconstruct any meaningful case for the evils most of us instinctively acknowledge.

When someone names these evil moments evil¬†(at least evil in any ontological sense), they¬†affirm the fact that some reality in the universe has named certain actions just and certain actions diabolical. You can’t insist religion a farce while using religions’ criteria for what is right and what is wrong. Good science wouldn’t allow that double standard.