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The Uniqueness of Christianity: Twelve Objections Answered

Religions

Ronald Knox once quipped that “the study of comparative religions is the best way to become comparatively religious.” The reason, as G. K. Chesterton says, is that, according to most “scholars” of comparative religion, “Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism.”

But any Christian who does apologetics must think about comparative religions because the most popular of all objections against the claims of Christianity today comes from this field. The objection is not that Christianity is not true but that it is not the truth; not that it is a false religion but that it is only a religion. The world is a big place, the objector reasons; “different strokes for different folks”. How insufferably narrow-minded to claim that Christianity is the one true religion! God just has to be more open-minded than that.

This is the single most common objection to the Faith today, for “today” worships not God but equality. It fears being right where others are wrong more than it fears being wrong. It worships democracy and resents the fact that God is an absolute monarch. It has changed the meaning of the word honor from being respected because you are superior in some way to being accepted because you are not superior in any way but just like us. The one unanswerable insult, the absolutely worst name you can possibly call a person in today’s society, is “fanatic”, especially “religious fanatic”. If you confess at a fashionable cocktail party that you are plotting to overthrow the government, or that you are a PLO terrorist or a KGB spy, or that you molest porcupines or bite bats’ heads off, you will soon attract a buzzing, fascinated, sympathetic circle of listeners. But if you confess that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, you will find yourself suddenly alone, with a distinct chill in the air.

Here are twelve of the commonest forms of this objection, the odium of elitism, with answers to each.

1. “All religions are the same, deep down.”

That is simply factually untrue. No one ever makes this claim unless he is (1) abysmally ignorant of what the different religions of the world actually teach or (2) intellectually irresponsible in understanding these teachings in the vaguest and woolliest way or (3) morally irresponsible in being indifferent to them. The objector’s implicit assumption is that the distinctive teachings of the world’s religions are unimportant, that the essential business of religion is not truth but something else: transformation of consciousness or sharing and caring or culture and comfort or something of that sort—not conversion but conversation. Christianity teaches many things no other religion teaches, and some of them directly contradict those others. If Christianity isn’t true, why be a Christian?

By Catholic standards, the religions of the world can be ranked by how much truth they teach.

  • Catholicism is first, with Orthodoxy equal except for the one issue of papal authority.
  • Then comes Protestantism and any “separated brethren” who keep the Christian essentials as found in Scripture.
  • Third comes traditional Judaism, which worships the same God but not via Christ.
  • Fourth is Islam, greatest of the theistic heresies.
  • Fifth, Hinduism, a mystical pantheism;
  • Sixth, Buddhism, a pantheism without a theos;
  • Seventh, modern Judaism, Unitarianism, Confucianism, Modernism, and secular humanism, none of which have either mysticism or supernatural religion but only ethics;
  • Eighth, idolarity; and
  • Ninth, Satanism.

To collapse these nine levels is like thinking the earth is flat.

2. “But the essence of religion is the same at any rate: all religions agree at least in being religious.

What is this essence of religion anyway? I challenge anyone to define it broadly enough to include Confucianism, Buddhism, and modern Reform Judaism but narrowly enough to exclude Platonism, atheistic Marxism, and Nazism.

The unproved and unprovable assumption of this second objection is that the essence of religion is a kind of lowest common denominator or common factor. Perhaps the common factor is a weak and watery thing rather than an essential thing. Perhaps it does not exist at all. No one has ever produced it.

3. “But if you compare the Sermon on the Mount, Buddha’s Dhammapada, Lao-tzu’s Tao-te-ching, Confucius’ Analects, the Bhagavad Gita, the Proverbs of Solomon, and the Dialogues of Plato, you will find it: a real, profound, and strong agreement.”

Yes, but this is ethics, not religion. The objector is assuming that the essence of religion is ethics. It is not. Everyone has an ethic, not everyone has a religion. Tell an atheist that ethics equals religion. He will be rightly insulted, for you would be calling him either religious if he is ethical, or unethical because he is nonreligious. Ethics maybe the first step in religion but it is not the last. As C.S. Lewis says, “The road to the Promised Land runs past Mount Sinai.”

4. “Speaking of mountains reminds me of my favorite analogy. Many roads lead up the single mountain of religion to God at the top. It is provincial, narrow-minded, and blind to deny the validity of other roads than yours.”

The unproved assumption of this very common mountain analogy is that the roads go up, not down; that man makes the roads, not God; that religion is man’s search for God, not God’s search for man. C. S. Lewis says this sounds like “the mouse’s search for the cat”.

Christianity is not a system of man’s search for God but a story of God’s search for man. True religion is not like a cloud of incense wafting up from special spirits into the nostrils of a waiting God, but like a Father’s hand thrust downward to rescue the fallen. Throughout the Bible, man-made religion fails. There is no human way up the mountain, only a divine way down. “No man has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”

If we made the roads, it would indeed be arrogant to claim that any one road is the only valid one, for all human things are equal, at least in all being human, finite, and mixtures of good and bad. If we made the roads, it would be as stupid to absolutize one of them as to absolutize one art form, one political system, or one way of skinning a cat. But if God made the road, we must find out whether he made many or one. If he made only one, then the shoe is on the other foot: it is humility, not arrogance, to accept this one road from God, and it is arrogance, not humility, to insist that our manmade roads are as good as God’s God-made one.

But which assumption is true? Even if the pluralistic one is true, not all religions are equal, for then one religion is worse and more arrogant than all others, for it centers on one who claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man can come to the Father but by me.”

5. “Still, it fosters religious imperialism to insist that your way is the only way. You’re on a power trip.”

No, we believe it not because we want to, because we are imperialistic, or because we invented it, but because Christ taught it. It isn’t our way, it’s his way, that’s the only way. We’re just being faithful to him and to what he said. The objector’s assumption is that we can make religion whatever we want it to

6. “If the one-way doctrine comes from Christ, not from you, then he must have been arrogant.”

How ironic to think Jesus is arrogant! No sin excited his anger more than the arrogance and bigotry of religious leaders. No man was ever more merciful, meek, loving, and compassionate.

The objector is always assuming the thing to be proved: that Christ is just one among many religious founders, human teachers. But he claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life; if that claim is not true, he is not one among many religious sages but one among many lunatics. If the claim is true, then again he is not one among many religious sages, but the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

7. “Do you want to revive the Inquisition? Don’t you value religious tolerance? Do you object to giving other religions equal rights?”

The Inquisition failed to distinguish the heresy from the heretic and tried to eliminate both by force or fire. The objector makes the same mistake in reverse: he refuses to condemn either. The state has no business defining and condemning heresy, of course, but the believer must do it-if not through the Church, then by himself. For to believe x is to condemn non-x as false. If you don’t believe non-x is false, then you don’t really believe x is true.

8. “I’m surprised at this intolerance. I thought Christianity was the religion of love.”

It is. It is also the religion of truth. The objector is separating two divine attributes. We are not. We are “speaking the truth in love”.

9. “But all God expects of us is sincerity.”

How do you know what God expects of us? Have you listened to God’s revelation? Isn’t it dangerous to assume without question or doubt that God must do exactly what you would do if you were God? Suppose sincerity were not enough; suppose truth was needed too. Is that unthinkable? In every other area of life we need truth. Is sincerity enough for a surgeon? An explorer? Don’t we need accurate road maps of reality?

The objector’s implicit assumption here is that there is no objective truth in religion, only subjective sincerity, so that no one can ever be both sincere and wrong; that the spirit does not have objective roads like the body and the mind, which lead to distinct destinations: the body’s physical roads lead to different cities and the mind’s logical roads lead to different conclusions. True sincerity wants to know the truth.

10. “Are non-Christians all damned then?”

No. Father Feeny was excommunicated by the Catholic Church for teaching that “outside the Church, no salvation” meant outside the visible Church. God does not punish pagans unjustly. He does not punish them for not believing in a Jesus they never heard of, through no fault of their own (invincible ignorance). But God, who is just, punishes them for sinning against the God they do know through nature and conscience (see Rom 1-2). There are no innocent pagans, and there are no innocent Christians either. All have sinned against God and against conscience. All need a Savior. Christ is the Savior.

11. “But surely there’s a little good in the worst of us and a little bad in the best of us. There’s good and bad everywhere, inside the Church and outside.”

True. What follows from that fact? That we need no Savior? That there are many Saviors? That contradictory religions can all be true? That none is true? None of these implied conclusions has the remotest logical connection with the admitted premise.

There is a little good in the worst of us, but there’s also a little bad in the best of us; more, there’s sin, separation from God, in all of us; and the best of us, the saints, are the first to admit it. The universal sin Saint Paul pinpoints in Romans 1:18 is to suppress the truth. We all sin against the truth we know and refuse it when it condemns us or threatens our self-sufficiency or complacency. We all rationalize. Our duty is plain to us—to be totally honest—and none of us does his duty perfectly. We have no excuse of invincible ignorance.

12. “But isn’t God unjust to judge the whole world by Christian standards?”

God judges justly. “All who sinned without [knowing] the [Mosaic] law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12). Even pagans show “that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom 2:15). If we honestly consult our hearts, we will find two truths: that we know what we ought to do and be, and that we fail to do and be that.

Fundamentalists, faithful to the clear one-way teaching of Christ, often conclude from this that pagans, Buddhists, et cetera, cannot be saved. Liberals, who emphasize God’s mercy, cannot bring themselves to believe that the mass of men are doomed to hell, and they ignore, deny, nuance, or water down Christ’s own claims to uniqueness. The Church has found a third way, implied in the New Testament texts. On the one hand, no one can be saved except through Christ. On the other hand, Christ is not only the incarnate Jewish man but also the eternal, preexistent word of God, “which enlightens every man who comes into the world” (Jn 1:9). So Socrates was able to know Christ as word of God, as eternal Truth; and if the fundamental option of his deepest heart was to reach out to him as Truth, in faith and hope and love, however imperfectly known this Christ was to Socrates, Socrates could have been saved by Christ too. We are not saved by knowledge but by faith. Scripture nowhere says how explicit the intellectual content of faith has to be. But it does clearly say who the one Savior is.

The Second Vatican Council took a position on comparative religions that distinguished Catholicism from both Modernist relativism and Fundamentalist exclusivism. It taught that on the one hand there is much deep wisdom and value in other religions and that the Christian should respect them and learn from them. But, on the other hand, the claims of Christ and his Church can never be lessened, compromised, or relativized. We may add to our religious education by studying other religions but never subtract from it.
 
 
Excerpted from Fundamentals of the Faith. Copyright 1988 by Ignatius Press, all rights reserved, used with permission.
(Image credit: Nirvana)


 
Fundamentals of the FaithLike every religion, Catholicism has three aspects, corresponding to the three parts of the soul.

First, every religion has some beliefs, whether expressed in creeds or not, something for the intellect to know. Second, every religion has some duty or deed, some practice of program, some moral or ethical code, something for the will to choose. Finally, every religion has some liturgy, some worship, some "church", something for the body and the concrete imagination and the aesthetic sense to work at.

In Fundamentals of the Faith, Dr. Peter Kreeft uses these three divisions as the basic outline. He considers all the fundamental elements of Catholicism, explaining, defending, and showing their relevance to our life and the world's yearnings.
 


 

Dr. Peter Kreeft

Written by

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

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  • Pick ay religion except Christianity in general and Catholocism specifically and each was founded by a mortal. Christianity is THE ONLY religion that was actually started by God and not a profit (spelling chosen on purpose) or prophet.

    • Mark Hunter

      Would you also include Judaism in that charge?

      • No, you couldn't, since it was founded by Yahweh for his chosen people.

        So that statement above should be amended, but can be excused since there's a continuity from traditional Judaism to Christianity.

    • Longshanks

      "Christianity is THE ONLY religion that was actually started by God and not a profit (spelling chosen on purpose) or prophet."

      If your dogmas and doctrines and traditions and manuscripts are correct, then that sentence is true, it is a tautology. If Christianity was started by God, then it was started by God.

      If you were not shooting for the tautology, if you meant to indicate that Christianity has a unique status among traditions as being the only claimant to divine terrestrial origins -- well.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_who_have_been_considered_deities

      • Leila Miller

        Serious question, as I am not familiar with all those folks in the Wiki article: Did any of those others claiming divinity claim that they were the Creator of all the universe? That they created the Heavens and the earth, and all creatures (including every human)?

        • Mark Hunter

          And seriously, neither did Jesus. Only his followers claimed that. Jesus never said "I am God" or "I created the universe"

          • Leila Miller

            “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

          • Mark Hunter

            A more accurate translation of that verse is that Jesus said "before Abraham was, I was" rather than the Exodus "I am". In that way he could have been comparing himself to an angel, not God.The vagaries of ancient Greek used by John have given rise to various translations. It would have been better if Jesus had actually said the words "I am God" but he never did. Those embellishments required the later Christian community.

          • Mark, this simply isn't true. In the Greek, Jesus says "before Abraham was born" using the past tense and then he switches to the present tense when he says "I am" (εγω ειμι in Greek, which means "to be," not "was").

            Also, your (unfounded) theory faces another serious problem: the Jewish leaders interrogating Jesus took his "I AM" statement as a blasphemous sign that he was equating himself with God. They understood Jesus to be claiming the name of Yahweh himself. If he simply said, "I was", there would be no reason for the intensity of their outrage.

          • Yet the Jewish authorities and crowds charged Jesus with *blasphemy*--a crime against God, not angels...they clearly understood Jesus to be making claims of *divinity*--equality with God.

          • TheGreek is actually in John 8:58 is "ego eimi". "I AM",the first person present tense of the verb to be, so Leila Miller's quote id accurate while I was is not true to the literal text.

          • Leila Miller

            Only the Great I AM is Being itself, the source of all else.

          • John 5:18: "The reason why the Jews were even more determined to kill him was that he not only was breaking the sabbath but, worse still, was speaking of God as his own Father, thereby making himself God's equal."
            Something to consider...

          • Mark Hunter

            When I was a Catholic, I prayed "Our Father...." Would they have killed me as well back then for the same reason?

          • Hi, Mark--thanks for the reply. No, I doubt a 1st.-century Jew would seek to kill you for saying "our Father" despite there not being much in the way of Jewish reverence for God "as" Father--but the manner in which Jesus spoke of being the Son of God went beyond this. When Jesus says that He and the Father "are one" and that those who have seen Him "have seen the Father", we're in a different arena than mere acknowledgement of a divine "paternal" connection to a human person. The way Jesus spoke--and the way He was understood--involved being "equal to God" by being of the same nature as His Divine Father.

          • Amy Corrieri

            Regarding the phrase/name "I AM," you are onto something *super* important, so bear with me on this longish reply.

            "I AM" is the holy name of God, revealed in the book of Exodus to Moses at the burning bush when he asks, "who shall I say sent me," God answers with the name "I AM WHO AM," or simply "I AM." This holy name is written in the Hebrew with four letters known as the tetragrammaton, YHVH, often transliterated into english as "Yahweh."

            This holy name was NEVER spoken aloud except once a year by the high priest in the Holy of Holies in the temple on the Day of Atonement. The name was so carefully guarded that today we do not even know how it is truly pronounced because we only have the Hebrew consonants (written Hebrew does not include vowels, and ancient Hebrew was a dead language so the oral tradition of its pronunciation was lost after the end of the temple priesthood).

            Jews of today use the word "Adonai" or "Lord" to speak aloud passages or even prayers that contain or address God to protect his sacred name from being misused.

            It was an *unthinkable* blasphemy for *anyone* to speak this name aloud let alone *claim to BE this name* which is precisely what Jesus did.

            Our oldest copies of the New Testament are written in Greek, not Hebrew, so we have to look carefully at how they are written to determine what Jesus actually said. There is an excellent article at this link that breaks down all the passages where Jesus says, "I am," in the New Testament. The first section is very helpful to pull out those where he specifically says "ego eimi" which is emphatic and absolute.

            http://catholic-resources.org/John/Themes-IAM.htm

            We can look at the reactions of the people he is talking to and see that he must have spoken the *actual sacred name* in at least some of these instances:

            In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Judas brings the soldiers to arrest Jesus in John 18:3-6 (caps are my emphasis):

            So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, wen there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I AM." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When he said to them, "I AM," they DREW BACK AND FELL TO THE GROUND.

            Why would the officers of the chief priests fall to the ground if Jesus was only saying, yes, I am the person you are looking for?

            And when Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin and questioned by the high priest and elders of the Jews in Mark 14:61-63:

            But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" And Jesus said, "I AM; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven. And the high priest TORE HIS GARMENTS, and said, "Why do we still need witnesses?"

            The tearing of clothing is seen throughout the Bible as a physical expression of grief or indignation in the face of grave sin, in this case blasphemy in the first degree.

            This is just a small sampling of what you can discover of Jesus' divinity by simply following the thread the of divine name through the whole Bible. You are on the scent of Truth!
            __________________

            Regarding praying the "Our Father," Jesus did not tell us to pray out loud the holy name of God, YHVH, so it was not blasphemy in that sense. It was audacious to the people of his time because he was teaching that the almighty God of the universe has an intimate, familial, in fact, Fatherly relationship to us. This is old news to us now, but at the time it was absolutely mind-shattering. Many reacted violently against this notion.

            But again, if we look at the very first revelation of God's intimate nature to humans at the burning bush with Moses, God says that the people (Israel/Jews) will be his first born children (an intimate familial relationship). And as with all revelation from God, this beautiful notion would unfold over time into a fuller and fuller understanding.
            ______________________

            These are the kinds of threads that if you honestly study and follow them with an open heart will unlock faith and understanding of God's nature and love for us and all that he offers us.

            I hope this helps shed some light!

    • QuanKong

      "Christianity is THE ONLY religion that was actually started by God" is an absolute mistaken notion. All religions are founded by mortal. Didn't Jesus Christ die?

  • Frank Attanucci

    I just love how Dr. Kreeft can put the logical Smackdown on these arguments!
    about an hour ago via mobile · Like · 1
    Frank Attanucci Before I even read Dr. Kreeft’s article, some thoughts on the theme.

    There
    is, of course, a certain "audacity" in the words of Jesus: "Before
    Abraham can to be, I AM" and "The Father and I are one," etc. What else
    would you expect if He is Who He claims to be?

    Therefore,
    is it not also to be expected that a certain "audacity" shows itself in
    the Body of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church? I mean, what
    other major religion claims to have a visible authority (the
    Magisterium) with the charism to speak a binding truth on matters of
    faith and morals? Islam does not, Judaism does not, Hinduism and
    Buddhism do not. Even the non-Catholic Christian churches do not.

    That
    they do not is a great mercy of God (for there is enough confusion in
    the world). But, it also means that the Catholic Church can expect to be
    opposed in a most virulent way—as was Her Master.

    And now to read the article...

    • I thought there would be no anonymous posting on this site?

      • Mark Hunter

        So Epicus Montaigne is your real name?

        • Touche. However, this is my real face, and my real name is easily found on my website, where I'm linked to on my disques profile.

          • Mark Hunter

            My real name is Mortimer Snerd and unfortunately that's my real face. :->

          • Oh, I think I've seen you around the Internet before! You're downright ubiquitous! Do you have a twin named Guest?

      • We're trying to figure out the best way to do this. I'd love any suggestions or ideas you have! Here's what we're thinking:

        The Disqus registration is helpful because 1) It requires name, email, and (implicitly) IP address so if someone trolls we can block them easily and permanently and 2) it keeps people accountable and (hopefully) improves the dialogue.

        The Disqus commenting system won't allow us to require first and last names (and how do you verify them, anyways?) Therefore the only way to enforce the "no anonymous" comments rule would be to alert commenters individually that we plan to blacklist them unless they use an account with their real name. This would be somewhat time-consuming, and might clog up the comboxes, but it's certainly not out of the question. One other problem I see is that for some people this would mean creating a second Disqus account. Because they likely would not want to log-in and log-out of different accounts this might prevent them from commenting at all.

        So we're kind of stuck in the middle and not sure what to do. The solution we're kind of leaning toward is keeping things as they are:

        1. Everyone must use Disqus, which means they need a Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ account

        2. They don't technically have to use their real name but it's desired. However, the moderators will be particularly sensitive to those who don't use their real name and will monitor their comments closely. If they violate any of our Commenting rules, they will be warned, then their comment will be deleted, then they will be banned.

        • Obviously I'm guilt of using a pseudonym, but my identity is readily found through my website. I think what you have is a good system, and if there's no way to let you keep Disqus "Guests" from posting then you just have to make it work.

          Unless you just want to delete every comment by an unregistered Guest.

        • Longshanks

          Before I began commenting, I read your policy, and I was slightly ambivalent about beginning posting as the anonymous rule is pretty clearly laid out.

          I think there's a valuable distinction between having no name and having a pseudonym. Apart from the benefits you mentioned of registration, email, and IP traceability using a name, real or not, ties one to the past, to an identity.

          For my part, I am glad that the 'letter of the law' hasn't been enforced aggressively.

  • Frank Attanucci

    Before I even read Dr. Kreeft’s article, some thoughts on the theme.

    There is, of course, a certain "audacity" in the words of Jesus: "Before Abraham can to be, I AM" and "The Father and I are one," etc. What else would you expect if He is Who He claims to be?

    Therefore, is it not also to be expected that a certain "audacity" shows itself in the Body of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church? I mean, what other major religion claims to have a visible authority (the Magisterium) with the charism to speak to truth on matters of faith and morals? Islam does not, Judaism does not, Hinduism and Buddhism do not. Even the non-Catholic Christian churches do not.

    That they do not is a great mercy of God (for there is enough confusion in the world). It also means that the Catholic Church can expect to be opposed in a most virulent way—as was Her Master.

    And, now, time to read the article!

  • Mark Hunter

    " If you confess at a fashionable cocktail party that you are plotting to overthrow the government, or that you are a PLO terrorist or a KGB spy, or that you molest porcupines or bite bats’ heads off, you will soon attract a buzzing, fascinated, sympathetic circle of listeners."

    If you are of t-shirt wearing age try this. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/04/25/challenge-to-christians-wear-an-atheist-t-shirt-and-gauge-reactions/

    You might find that the reaction is similar to what Atheist Shoes (a German company) experiences with the USPS

    http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/03/28/study-packages-sealed-with-atheist-tape-10-times-more-likely-to-disappear/

    • I think part of the problem here is the "spheres" that we have in America. I really don't think you are going to have the same reaction to the "Atheist" shirt on the campus at Harvard that you might get on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, and the same would go for the "Christain" shirt. However, because I've read some of Kreeft's other stuff, I sort of saw his point as that this would happen even at a party of mostly Christians. Many Christians are very uncomfortable with too public or "fanatical" professions of faith. There's also a whole lot of compartmantalizing regarding what Christianity and following Jesus really means, and people are uncomfortable with the full implementation of this.

  • Andre Boillot

    "If you confess at a fashionable cocktail party that you are plotting to overthrow the government, or that you are a PLO terrorist or a KGB spy, or that you molest porcupines or bite bats’ heads off, you will soon attract a buzzing, fascinated, sympathetic circle of listeners."

    I hope you'll forgive me, but this passage seems like a particularly flippant statement to make on a site that purports serious debate. If concern for the safety of my fellow man did not prevent me from doing so, I would invite anyone to test this out: go to a party in Boston (fashionable or otherwise) and claim to be a terrorist (or just try walking around while looking Muslim). The statement itself might well be excused, in the context of being excerpted from a 1988 publication, but it's inclusion seems counter-productive to discussions taking place in 2013.

    "But if you confess that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, you will find yourself suddenly alone, with a distinct chill in the air."

    And yet it's inconceivable that we'd elect a president in this country who did not say such things, how strange.

    • Mark Hunter

      Indeed with the departure of Chris Stark from Congress there is not one member of the US Congress that will admit to non belief.

    • Leila Miller

      Andre, "fashionable cocktail party" implies the elites of this nation and the academics who one can imagine would fawn over the Bill Ayerses or Bernadine Dohrns who walked in the room to regale them with their revolutionary stories. Or the Occupy Wall Street anarchists, perhaps the much-loved Che Guevara (if he could resurrect!) or the intriguing dictators of Cuba or North Korea, etc.

      And to the last part. Are you arguing that Americans elected Obama (twice) because of his strong statements of belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? I doubt that Obama waxes eloquent about his love of the Lord at Beltway cocktail parties (or rather, at the frequent celebrity-studded White House bashes)?

      Honestly, I think we can both imagine what the reaction of Obama's liberal colleagues and friends and supporters would be if he started talking about Jesus Christ at White House parties and left-wing fundraisers! (We know how the press and cultural elites mocked Bush when he said Christ was his favorite philosopher.)

      • Mark Hunter

        Do you honestly think they would have elected Pres. Obama if he was a non believer?

        • Randy Gritter

          Is he a believer? I know he attends church sometimes and he is married in a church and his whole family is baptized. That makes him a Christian by the technical definition. It does not make him a believer. He could not be a strong Christian and get elected. He could not be a strong atheist either.

          • Mark Hunter

            Jimmy Carter was a strong Christian and got elected while Ronald Reagan hardly ever went to church while he was president (even less than Pres. Obama does).

          • Leila Miller

            Jimmy Carter was elected in the '70s… that's a stretch. Reagan was a strong believer, church attendance or no. Even folks who like and voted for Obama are not sure he's actually a strong Christian believer. That's the general feeling.

            I refer you back to my original comment:

            "Are you arguing that Americans elected Obama (twice) because of his strong statements of belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? I doubt that Obama waxes eloquent about his love of the Lord at Beltway cocktail parties (or rather, at the frequent celebrity-studded White House bashes)?"

            And this, which is most relevant to this post:

            ["F]ashionable cocktail party" implies the elites of this nation and the academics who one can imagine would fawn over the Bill Ayerses or Bernadine Dohrns who walked in the room to regale them with their revolutionary stories. Or the Occupy Wall Street anarchists, perhaps the much-loved Che Guevara (if he could resurrect!) or the intriguing dictators of Cuba or North Korea, etc."

          • Leila Miller

            Let me add: Do you think the Democratic Party (with which the bulk of the media and academia are affiliated) would nominate an orthodox Catholic or evangelical Christian as their presidential candidate?

          • Mark Hunter

            I think the Orthodox Catholic or Evangelical Christian would have problems with the Democratic Party due to their opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

            On the other side could would the Republicans choose a Catholic who supported the Catholic Church's position on social justice issues?

            Do you think the Republicans would elect someone who said :

            "We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate.

            All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to to speak of and act on their belief.

            At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral."

          • Leila Miller

            Mark, abortion is a social justice issue. And, faithful Catholics accept all doctrinal and moral positions of the Church. Catholics are free to disagree on public policy issues (how best to help the poor, whether massive social programs help or hurt). But issues of human life and family (natural law issues) are non-negotiable.

            If you were looking for me to endorse Republicans, by the way, you will be disappointed. I am no fan of establishment Republicans. I am a Catholic.

            As to the quote: If only the government were "strictly neutral". Then we wouldn't have dozens of businesses currently suing the federal government over the HHS mandate, nor would we have the government suing small business owners like the florist in Seattle.

            "...those who believe are free, and should be free, to to speak of and act on their belief."

            Again, I only wish this were actually true!

          • Mark Hunter

            Are Catholics free to disagree with the Catholic Church's teachings against capital punishment, against the war in Iraq, in favour of worker's right to unionize, the right of workers to a fair wage and the need for all people to have access to health care. ( see http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching.cfm).

            Catholic teachings on social justice has been very progressive over the years and no, you cannot be a cafeteria Catholic and choose to ignore them. Unfortunately the right has chosen to ignore those teachings or view them as optional and only choose to follow the.

            As to the government being strictly neutral, why should the government enforce the ethical policies of one denomination? If they should which denomination should make government policy. And why has not one religious organization ever protested that their health coverage covers erectile dysfunction drugs for unmarried men?

          • Leila Miller

            Erectile dysfunction is a medical disorder (body not working right) and a drug such as Viagra corrects or treats the disorder (whether companies or employers want to cover that is up to them). By contrast, contraception to prevent pregnancy is not treating any disorder. In fact, it is taking a healthy body (fertility = health) and it is making it derail/malfunction. That is not medicine. It's the opposite. (Unless you want to tell me that there is something wrong with women's bodies and the way they function?)

            No one is asking the government to "enforce the ethical policies of one denomination". We are asking that the government not force us to commit mortal sin or formally cooperate with it (which is also a mortal sin), and we are asking that the government allow Catholics to operate our businesses and entities according to our consciences and well-established beliefs (without fear of fines and jail, loss of livelihood). Before Obama and Sebelius, that wasn't too much to ask in America, it was a given.

            As for doctrine, you misunderstand the difference between 1) what is intrinsically evil and non-negotiable, and 2)what is a matter of prudential judgment when it comes to public policy and application. Here is one post I wrote about the non-negotiables, with citations from two popes and one bishop (who wrote in the US Bishop's series about "Catholics in the Public Square"):

            http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/10/to-catholic-democrats.html

            Remember, no one is suggesting that workers don't have a right to organize, or that human beings should not have health care access, or that workers are not due a fair wage, or that the death penalty must be applied, etc. But what constitutes a fair wage? That's up for legitimate debate, obviously. What is the best, most efficient health care system? Again, up for legitimate debate. The scope, aim, and effect of unions? Up for legitimate debate (the public sector unions of today are not my grandfather's union, let's just put it that way!). Death penalty prohibition absolute? No, it's not, as even the Catechism says, since it's not an intrinsic evil (though I am against its use in America).

            And I'm sure you are aware of the just war theory (war is not intrinsically evil, and good Catholics may disagree on what constitutes a just war in any particular case).

            But the non-negotiables? They are, well, non-negotiable.

          • Leila Miller

            PS: I see now that you mentioned "unmarried" males re: fixing erectile dysfunction. We don't ask to see a marriage license before we assent to treat a bodily disorder. If it's a disorder of the body, medicine may legitimately treat it. In fact, an employer would not be able to know if that man was about to be married in the next week, month, year. In the same vein, I wish that insurance would cover the actual reproductive disorders of women that cause them infertility (it is a cause close to my heart, although I have not suffered from infertility myself). Instead of making women's bodies malfunction via dangerous and carcinogenic Pills (and forcing us to pay for it), why not cover treatment for PCOS or endometriosis (treating it, not masking the symptoms), hormone imbalances or blocked tubes, etc., so that women's bodies can work right and be healthy and fertile? If a woman sought out those services long before she was married (as I've known many young women to do), that would be moral and fine, just as a man might want his system functioning correctly as well.

            Medicine is supposed to be about bodily health.

          • Mark Hunter

            So you don't ask to see a marriage license to xix a bodily disorder but you are complicit is allowing an unmarried man to commit a mortal (even if he "might want his system functioning correctly" - Is this like a test drive for a new car) But you are also not allowing that prescriptions for contraception be used for controlling other problems.

          • Mark Hunter

            Do you think any of those people actually attend elite cocktail parties in Washington?

          • Leila Miller

            The question is if they did/do, not whether they did/do.

      • Andre Boillot

        Leila,

        I see. So "fashionable cocktail party" is code for "elites" and "academics", which is in turn code for liberal/socialist/communist. Gotcha.

        I know how much you like simple, yes/no questions, so I have one for you: Is it useful/appropriate for a site purporting to foster dialogue to engage in lazy stereotyping such as this? Having previously had discussions with you, I've come to accept, and even expect, it from you. However, I was hoping for better from featured authors, more so ones with "Dr." in their titles.

        In any case, I thought this was supposed to be a place for people to discuss the questions surrounding the existence of God, not a forum to hurl political rhetoric. One massively controversial topic should suffice, no?

        • Christian Stillings

          I agree that Leila interpreted "fashionable cocktail party" is a very particular, and potentially objectionable, way. However, neither you (Andre) nor Mark gave any particular indication about how you think it should be understood, so I don't think she was unjustified in running with her interpretation. If you object to her interpretation, you could offer an interpretation that you think would be better-fitting. Alternately, you could just call Mark out for tossing around vague ideas like "fashionable cocktail party" without offering any clue as to what he means by it.

          However, I was hoping for better from featured authors, more so ones with "Dr." in their titles.

          I'm a bit confused by this. You took issue with Leila's interpretation of the "fashionable cocktail party" remark, and understandably so, but I'm not sure what your objections to/issues are with what Dr. Kreeft wrote in the article. What did you find disappointing about the article?

          • Andre Boillot

            Christian,

            "I'm a bit confused by this. You took issue with Leila's interpretation of the "fashionable cocktail party" remark, and understandably so, but I'm not sure what your objections to/issues are with what Dr. Kreeft wrote in the article. What did you find disappointing about the article?"

            With respect, one wonders if you've read the article. I was not quoting Mark, but the Dr. Kreeft. Maybe the rest will fall into place for you now.

          • Christian Stillings

            I'd read the article earlier, and when I came back to check in for new comments, I saw the kerfuffle over the "fashionable cocktail party" remark and forgot that it had been in the original article. You're right; thanks for calling me out! :-)

          • Leila Miller

            What I'm confused about is why you object to me commenting on your comment and the points in it.

          • Andre Boillot

            Leila,

            I'll repeat my yes/no question to you: "Is it useful/appropriate for a site purporting to foster dialogue to engage in lazy stereotyping such as this?"

          • Leila Miller

            When even some in liberal circles and in the press have conceded the point (and studies bear out that most in the press and academia support liberals and liberal causes), I don't think it's a lazy stereotype. So, I can't answer your question.

          • Leila Miller

            I'll add a question: Andre, what do you think the response would be at a fashionable Beltway or Manhattan cocktail party if I started professing belief in Jesus as Lord of the Universe?

          • Andre Boillot

            Leila,

            Having attended neither (I guess I'm not librul enough), I couldn't answer that question.

          • Leila Miller

            I don't mind if you speculate.

          • Andre Boillot

            Leila,

            To answer your question, I believe the response, to somebody "professing belief in Jesus as Lord of the Universe", at a "fashionable Beltway or Manhattan cocktail party", would certainly be awkward if done for no apparent reason. Just as it would a declaration of faith for [fill in the blank]. I also believe that a declaration of jihad, or intent to overthrow the government would illicit much stronger, more negative, responses. Though, again, I've never rated an invite.

            Back to my initial point. En route to his nonsense re: reactions to terrorists vs. Christians, Dr. Kreeft claims that: "The one unanswerable insult, the absolutely worst name you can possibly call a person in today’s society, is “fanatic”, especially “religious fanatic”. He then immediately reverses tack and lists fanatics (revolutionaries) and religious fanatics (terrorists) as two groups which would apparently be welcome. Because: libruls, apparently. My question is why this sort of lazy stereotyping is put forth on a site purporting to be about well intentioned outreach, trying to get away from shallow and heated discussion?

            You then awkwardly fumble into the conversation with stories of Bill Ayers and his wife, as if the rare and muted acceptance of these two were somehow indicative of the feelings of all liberal elites and academics, let alone all elites and academics. You then inaccurately label OWS as anarchists, and lump Che, Castro, and NK into a single group, which the liberal elites presumably also support.

            In conclusion, this site is about the debate between Catholics and atheists surrounding the existence of God. I don't see why need to add political rhetoric on top on an already contentious debate.

            This is all I'll say to you on this topic, and frankly I'm surprised the moderators haven't chided the attempts to take this off-topic.

          • Leila Miller

            One thing at a time. You said:

            To answer your question, I believe the response, to somebody "professing belief in Jesus as Lord of the Universe", at a "fashionable Beltway or Manhattan cocktail party", would certainly be awkward if done for no apparent reason. Just as it would a declaration of faith for [fill in the blank].

            I fill in the blank with Buddhism, or Kabbala (a la Madonna), or any Eastern or New Age religion, or even Islam (if it's a Christian who has just left Christ for Mohammed).

            In those cases, I don't think the response would be awkward, I think it would be interested. Don't you?

          • Andre Boillot

            Leila,

            "In those cases, I don't think the response would be awkward, I think it would be interested. Don't you?"

            I don't know what else to tell you. You ask my opinion on X. I say I have no expertise to answer X. You ask me to give my opinion anyways. I humor you. Then you disagree with my opinion and ask if I agree with yours - the opinion that you just gave in opposition to mine. You can tell I don't agree, because you just got done disagreeing with me.

            "One thing at a time."

            Yes, pace yourself, it's clearly helping.

          • Leila Miller

            Okay, Andre [shrug]. I just got more specific, pressed you a bit on your "fill in the blank". But that is not something you want to talk about, I get it.

            I do think that most folks, even on your side, would understand that no one in said cocktail party would find it awkward if Madonna started talking about her love for Kabbala (they'd probably sign up for it themselves and start wearing red string bracelets -- wait, that actually happened), or if some other celeb were to speak on his newfound passion for Buddhism or numerology, or if Keith Ellison regaled his fellow Dems and Beltway reporters about life as a Muslim ex-Christian in DC. But if you think there would be lots of awkwardness from others when they did, then yes, I will leave it here and we must agree to disagree.

            Off to my oldest child's college graduation. Have a great day!

          • Andre Boillot

            Leila,

            You don't think it's a lazy stereotype to use "fashionable cocktail party" as a stand in for 'liberals'?

          • Mark Hunter

            If we use "fashionable cocktail party" for liberals imagine if we were so inclined what we could dream up for conservatives. But then, that would be wrong.

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        Leila,

        Since Obama won the majority of the Catholic vote in both 2008 and 2012, I doubt if we can draw the political and religious fault lines quite as precisely as you seem to imply.

        And I doubt that Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi (who both continue to be eligible for communion as far as I know) would have any problem fitting in at one of those parties!

  • mriehm

    This extraordinarily-arrogant piece of writing boils down to, "We are right and the others are wrong." (And not only wrong, but somehow bizarrely categorized into eight levels of wrong.)

    I'm sure I could hear exactly - EXACTLY - the same kinds of arguments from Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, ... The arguments are indistinguishable from one another. All that changes is the name of the deity and the holy book and the details of the theology. There is never any concrete proof, just suppositions. And no one is more convincing than the next.

    Theologies differ, but the one thing held in common by all religions is a fervent monopoly on the truth.

    When faced with a choice between indistinguishable theologies, what is the unbeliever to do? The only rational course is atheism.

    • What if atheism is one among many "indistinguishable" -ologies?

    • Mark Hunter

      Actually, we should learn from practice, most believers just pick the religion of their parents.

      Seriously in the Catholic prayer on Easter Sunday (I believe as it's been years since I went to church) they pray a similar hierachy . From memory, they start with the Pope, then the Bishops, priests, holy men and women, Catholics, protestants, Jews, those who do not believe in Jesus, and those who do not believe in God. That's roughly the pecking order in the Catholic Church and Dr. Kreeft roughly mimics it.

      Oh, and after all that, they pray for politicians.

      • You seem to refer to the Good Friday General Intercessions, in which the Deacon leads prayer: For the Church, for the Pope, for the clergy and laity, for those preparing for baptism, for Christian unity, for the Jewish people, for those who don't believe in Christ, for those who don't believe in God, for all in public office, and for those in special need. Not sure that this sequence of prayer matches the above structure...

        • Mark Hunter

          Sorry. You are right. It is Good Friday (It's been a while) . It's roughly the same structure from Catholics, other Christians, Jewish people, down to non believers and politicians. Maybe that's why many people think atheists are Satanists or that politicians are in league with the devil.

          • Well, Mark--seems this would only hold true if one really believed that *Catholics* believe that "those in special need" are *also* "in league with the devil." As a Catholic, I'm pretty sure we don't believe that all those in special need are Satanists... :-)

    • Christian Stillings

      Dr. Kreeft is Catholic, so it's sensible for him to write from that perspective. Besides, he wasn't saying "here's why Catholicism is obviously true", he was saying "here's why it's unique". I don't think the categorization was "bizarre" at all. Dr. Kreeft said:

      By Catholic standards, the religions of the world can be ranked by how much truth they teach.

      To paraphrase, he said "if we work from the presupposition of Catholicism being true, this is how close other creeds/belief traditions are to truth, from closest to furthest away". If you want to contest the presupposition, that's fine, but that doesn't make his categorization in any way "bizarre".

      None is more convincing than the next? I have to disagree. Have you ever looked into the actual historical claims of Mormonism? At least the Gospel accounts have a decent capacity to be true.

      I don't think it's fair to characterize Catholicism as proclaiming a "monopoly on truth". It says that wherever another philosophy/theology disagrees with it, the Catholic Church's perspective is correct. However, when non-Catholics and even non-Christians get things right, it's fantastic, and Catholics get to celebrate that. For example, Gandhi wasn't a Christian. He predicted that birth control would damage culture. He and the Catholic Church were both right about that, and it's awesome that a non-Christian is able to grasp many truths as Gandhi did.

      I'm also not sure that atheism is "the only rational course". If one believes that God exists (for whatever reason) but doesn't buy into any particular theology, why not just run with a vague Unitarian-esque theism? "Maybe God works among us; maybe he doesn't. There's no good standard by which to tell either way." Depending on one's prior thoughts on the God hypothesis, this could be a much more rational course than atheism.

  • Quanah

    While Kreeft shows the holes in the twelve objections he has selected, he does not actually do anything to reasonably show the distinctiveness of Christianity. I found his response to the first objection particularly lacking. He does not show why the assumption that the essential business of religion is transformation and not truth is incorrect. Also, a dichotomy between truth and transformation can be implied. A dichotomy that some religions allow, but not Christianity.

    • Chad Eberhart

      Thanks, Quanah, this is something I've been struggling with (I'm Catholic) but haven't been able to articulate. I've been searching for the proper word and I think transformation is it. Often I'm caught between the notion of conjuring, i.e., asking religion to do something for you...manipulating God or nature through prayer and the Christian notion of grace which somehow isn't manipulation, and isn't a guarantee or anything, but helps in someway, but is not necessarily perceptible, but we trust that something happens, but it's not the same as conjuring, etc. We are transformed but to expect something perceptible is asking too much and Truth is Truth regardless of whether we think we're transformed....sigh it's too much sometimes. That's a lot of gobbledygook I know....

  • Jim

    I don't think Dr Kreeft has ever read the Bahagavad-gita - and if he did he certainly
    does not understand it.

  • Most people are wrong about religion, as a demonstrable fact. See: http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/2012/10/most-people-are-wrong-about-religion.html

    Christians have the added problem that Evolution has made the Adam & Eve story of Genesis impossible, so no Original Sin and thus no need for a redeemer.

  • Michael Murray

    So just a comment. Not a snark. But if you really want to engage atheists in serious and respectful dialogue you are going to have to do a lot, lot better than the articles so far posted. They are all pretty terrible apologetics in my opinion. Designed to reinforce the prejudices of those who already have faith. Suitable for a Catholic newspaper of the type they used to sell after Mass years ago when I still went. Written by people who live their life in a Catholic theistic bubble and seem to have terrible trouble seeing anything outside that bubble other than through caricature.

    Of course it's your website and you are entitled to post what you like.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I would take #5 out of that list and put it in with #8. The Vedic religion is based on idolatry and local devas.