We recently watched the 2007 debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox. One topic they touch on, unsurprisingly, is the argument that an ideology can be discredited by implicating it in atrocities. Christianity caused the Crusades and the Inquisition, therefore Christianity is false or evil. Atheism caused the Gulag and the Killing Fields, therefore atheism is false or evil. On a similar line, atheists sometimes accuse Christianity of brainwashing and anti-intellectualism, while Christians sometimes accuse atheists of having no moral grounding.
It’s certainly a popular argument, yet I reckon it’s of little use — for both Christians and atheists. It results in a cycle of tit for tat, a blame game of Pin the Atrocity on the Donkey. (Online flame wars, here we come — anyone want to fight over whether Hitler was a Christian or an atheist?) More than that, the argument is not particularly sustainable. An ideology is clearly atrocious only if it persistently results in atrocities — which is not clearly the case for either Christianity or atheism. Atheists and their ideas are not uniformly or even overwhelmingly atrocious, neither are Christians and theirs. (That said, Christianity and atheism must each respond to the respective atrocities associated with their ideologies and leaders.)
The better line, I think, is to ask, What is the most basic thing common to human atrocities?
I wonder what you reckon.
As far as I can tell, the answer boils down to human self-interest. (That’s roughly analogous to the biblical term, ‘sin’.)
This changes the question substantially and helpfully. Instead of trying to nail the World’s Worst Ideology, we ask, What offers the best hope for a future filled with human self-interest?
The way forward, then, is more in sharing our stories and visions and less in trying to discredit each other.
Maybe this seems wildly posimistic but it strikes me as fruitful.
Why not try it out? Instead of playing Pin the Atrocity on the Donkey, sketch out your own bright hope and put it out there.
Also in the pipeline: a Christian blogging manifesto
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.