Real Freedom?

Just one more from Tim Keller’s comment section, and then I’m going to stick to my guns and stop looking at those ugly things.  This is one I found today:


Keller is saying there that the freedom God intended us to have can only be held through the observing of certain restrictions (including, of course, moral ones), restrictions which are not abnormal but absolutely normal, fitting our very beings.  That is a standard Christian understanding of “restrictions” (or “commands” or “teachings” or whatever else you want to call them).  I believe it is an understanding of reality.  I believe it is an inescapable truth, and that life becomes happier or easier or better or more glorious when we live in harmony with that truth, aligning ourselves with those restrictions.

The person who commented, though, (and whose identity I have obscured) apparently believes the opposite.  He believes in “throwing off” those restrictions rather than aligning with them.  He believes in ignoring or denying or violating our design rather than accepting it.  He believes this will give him real freedom, and he expresses that with the indignant disdain that has become unfortunately too common in such discussions.

It is not a new idea.  I heard this idea from atheist Christopher Hitchens several years ago.  He stated it during a debate with apologeticist William Lane Craig.


The statement to notice there is close to the end.  Hitchens refers to “the poisonous role played by fellow primates of mine who think they can tell me what to do in the name of God.”  You can find that statement somewhere in the debate below:

So Keller’s commentator says real freedom is throwing off the restrictions of religious leaders, implying that such restrictions are wrong (if freedom is right, anything which restricts it must be wrong/evil/unjust, right?), and Hitchens says that “fellow primates” telling each other what to do is the name of God is poisonous.  And there is a lot of indignation in those assertions.  There isn’t a lot of logic, though.  Here’s a couple logical problems I see with these complaints about restrictions/being told what to do.

People tell other people what to do all the time.  My self-proclaimed secular society tells me what to do all the time.  They tell me not to be racist, not to be sexist, and not to be a dozen other similar things.  They will punish me harshly if I do those things.  What they don’t tell me is why I can’t do those things or by what authority they are telling me not to do those things.  They tell me they are wrong (even as they tell me there is no such thing as wrong), but they don’t tell me why they are wrong or why they are the ones to tell me they are wrong.  Does Hitchens regard this as equally poisonous?  Is this one of the restrictions Keller’s commentator would like to throw off?  I doubt it.  They more than likely accept those restrictions (even as they proclaim a wrong-less worldview).  Why, then, do they get so bent out of shape about these other restrictions?  Why do they act like religious leaders are the only ones who proclaim such restrictions?  If you’re going to live in the presence of other people, you are going to be told to do or not to do hundreds of things from the moral to the civic.  Getting upset at that is not wise.  Getting upset at only half of that is even less wise.

Other leaders promote the same restrictions religious leaders do.  Religious leaders often promote sexual restrictions.  In our sexual society, that is probably what generates the most resistance.  They are not the only ones to promote such restrictions, though.  I saw a news story on TV last year about a high school counselor who forces her female students to be abstinent.  She does so not because she thinks sex is wrong but because she knows pregnancies and STDs will keep these young women from completing college.  Is she wrong in having those restrictions?  Is it right for her to point out the physical consequences of sexual activity but wrong for religious leaders to point out the (very real) spiritual consequences of sexual activity?

Religious leaders don’t force anyone to do anything or stop anybody from doing anything.  I certainly don’t.  I haven’t been given that authority.  I wouldn’t take that authority if it were offered to me.  Such authority would offend my faith, in fact; my faith is based on reasonably persuading people to come to God of their own free will, to respond to them with their hearts.  That can’t be forced or coerced, and I don’t try to do that.  What I do try to do is tell people what the right choices are and (like the high school counselor above) what the consequences of wrong choices will be.  I tell them that and then allow them to make their own choices.  Without fail, those who have chosen what I (and God) have said is right turn out much happier than those who chose the other way

Let me give you a short story here: a guy came into my office years ago to ask me for permission to commit adultery.  Yep.  He had the chance to commit adultery and wanted my okay on it.  He was not getting the intimacy from his wife which he needed, he found another woman in an open marriage who would give him that intimacy (at least for awhile), and he wanted me to tell him it was okay.  I couldn’t tell him that.  It was hard not to; it was very hard to tell a guy starved for intimacy that he couldn’t go get some.  However, I also told him that not only was adultery wrong, but it had consequences.  I told him any intimacy he found with the other woman would be short-lived.  I told him I doubted she was really in an open marriage; I suggested that her husband had just found a way to talk her into allowing him to have sex with other women and would be angry if she had sex with other men.  I told him he would have a secret to keep, and doing so would be unpleasant.  I gave him lots of good reasons not to commit adultery.  But I didn’t stop him from doing it.  He went and did it.  Then he came back a month later and told me I was “right” (which is not my goal; I’m not trying to be right; I’m trying to help people live what God calls “fruitful lives”).  He said that the husband was angry and threatened him.  He said he wished he had never done it.

I don’t make other people’s choices for them; I can’t and wouldn’t.  Nor do any other religious leaders I know (and I know a lot).  I simply tell people what I think is the right choice.  Hitchens is doing the very same thing.  So is Keller’s commentator.  I don’t see why it is wrong for me to do so when it is (apparently) right for them to do so.

Hitchens and Keller’s commentator are telling me what to do.  Hitchens’ big problem is people telling him “what do do” (he uses that phrase a couple times in the debate).  That’s apparently the commentator’s problem as well.  And yet they are doing the same thing.  They are telling me what to do even as they say I should not tell them what to do.  Telling people what not to do is telling them what to do.  Should I, then, through off their restrictions on me?  It seems like a big paradox or audio feedback loop, but it is true.  One man’s liberator is another man’s dictator.  I’m sure Hitchens would be surprised to be called a dictator, and I’m sure he was not trying to be one.  But he does seem like one to me.

What religion tells us to do is by and large accepted as correct.  That might sound strange, particularly with the problems the non-believing sector has with the believing sectors teaching on sex.  Nonetheless, it is true on the larger scale.  The primary teaching of my faith is love.  Love God is the first commandment, and loving others is the second.  Everything beyond that, including the sexual restrictions, is about how to love God and others in specific situations.  And that is something most people (probably even Hitchens and the Keller commentator) agree with.

Again, a little story helps here:  I was in the gym locker room with a fellow pastor a couple years ago.  We were talking about the faith, not realizing that anyone else was in there with us.  All the sudden, a guy came around the corner and started yelling at us, telling us that we don’t need things like the Bible and Hell.  “Why can’t we just do unto others?” he asked me.  Because I am gracious, I didn’t embarrass him by telling him that “do unto others” comes from the Bible he just said we don’t need.  Whether or not I told him that, though, the point remains that most people agree with love and kindness and compassion.  And those are the things my faith teaches.  Those are the things the restrictions are meant to produce.

Image result for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him

The end of the matter, then, is that I’m not poisoning anybody, nor are the many other religious leaders I know.  I’m not restricting anybody, either; Keller used that word because it fit that context, but I’m sure he would agree that what he is calling restrictions are really not restrictions at all.  No, I am freeing as many as I can.  I have found from my own experience that nothing is as freeing as the way of Christ, as way that (like all ways) has boundaries but which leads to a much better place in a much better manner than any other way I know.  People can get indignant about that; they have (as we see here) and they always will.  But their indignation doesn’t make any sense.  What they are pursuing, whether they know it or not, is not real freedom.  A life without boundaries is not a life of freedom; it is, as Peter says, a life of mastering, of being mastered, of being a slave.  No, it is the life of boundaries that is free.  It is the restriction-giving God who gives real freedom.

The Morally Superior and the Intellectually Inferior

While checking Twitter last night (Christmas Eve), I found this tweet:

Now I don’t know what Tyson (or is it “deGrasse Tyson”?) meant with that tweet.  It looks like an insult to me, a verbal shot at people of faith (particularly people of my faith).  It seems to have that snark which is so popular in public discourse today, the sarcastic insinuation, the snide suggestion that something is wrong with the world’s 2.5 billion Christians.  I will admit it might not be that.  I’m not a mind reader.  I don’t know and can’t know what Tyson’s intent was in making this statement, so I won’t speculate on it.  But I will say (and I think it is fair to say) that it seems like a shot to me.  My initial reaction to this tweet, right or wrong, is that it is a shot at Christians and maybe even Christianity on Christmas Day.

Even if it isn’t a such a shot, though, there are plenty such shots out there.  There are quite a few people who have not only rejected The Faith but go one step further to attack The Faith.  The corruption of the Ichthus Fish, a millennia-old Christian symbol, is one shot/attack.  I see these corruptions on cars around my neighborhood quite frequently.   They have become so common they even have their own Wikipedia page.

Funny?  That’s debatable.  Classy?  Definitely not.  There is nothing classy about profaning what someone else regards as sacred.

Beyond this, Richard Dawkins told listeners as the 2012 Reason Rally that “Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt”, and then further challenged those leaders to “Mock [people of faith]! Ridicule them! In public!”  (You can find the full speech here.)

And beyond that, several non-believers have publicly referred to The Faith as “a fairy tale” or “make believe” or “the greatest story ever sold”.  I’ve also heard God called “an imaginary friend for adults”.  These non-believers have referred to The Faith and God in these ways not in a matter-of-fact way (which is one thing), but in that snarky, snide, sarcastic way I mentioned above (which is another thing altogether).

And I don’t suppose that these shots or attacks are all that bad.  “Sticks and stones”, right?  These are just words.  If having someone make a negative comment about me and/or my faith in either an academic or an aggressive manner is the worst thing that happens to me on this Christmas day, then I am doing pretty good.

But I am still left with one question about this matter.  There is still one question I have to ask before I can fully dismiss these words, a question which came immediately to mind as soon as I saw this tweet.  The question has to do with the fact that non-believers or anti-believers, particularly scientific ones like Tyson and Dawkins, are often presented as “more moral” or “morally superior” to believers like me.  I need go no further than the note I presented in the last post to give one example of this.  The young man in that note made this exact statement in no uncertain terms.  He said the people of the world are often “better” than the people of church.  Not only so, but they are often presented as intellectually superior as well.  In fact, those two things seem to me to be put together, i.e., these people are morally superior because they are intellectually superior, while people of faith are morally inferior because they are intellectually superior.

The question I have, then, is why are these morally superior individuals using such morally inferior tactics?  Why are these morally superior ones using tactics which I, the morally inferior one, have never used (I’ve never attacked a Jewish person on Hanukkah or a Muslim person on Ramadan; I’ve never attacked anyone for their faith or lack of it, period; I’ve merely tried to live my own life of faith)?  Why are these using tactics which my morally inferior faith forbids me from using (Paul tells us not to use the weapons of the world, Peter tells us to maintain gentleness and respect in such situations, and Jesus taught us to love our enemies, so my faith repeatedly forbids such tactics)?  Are snark, sarcasm, and snideness morally superior attitudes?  Is attacking someone, particularly someone intellectually inferior to you, for their faith on the high holiday of that faith a morally superior thing to do?

And if it is not, as I clearly don’t think it is and imagine you don’t, either, then why are those who do such things presented as morally superior?  If this tactic is not morally superior, how can these individuals be considered morally superior?  For that matter, how can they be considered intellectually superior?

Religion Is The Dumbest Thing On The Planet

I don’t do Facebook much anymore.  The arguments and attacks which came out of the 2016 presidential election made it nearly impossible for me to enjoy the social media site.  I left at that time and never came back.  People still message me through Facebook, though, so I do check it periodically.  When I do, I see the posts at the top of the wall (or timeline or whatever; I’m not hip enough to know what these things are).  Just a few days ago, I was checking my messages and noticed that the post at the top of the wall at that particular moment was asking people to make a controversial statement.  Follow-up posters could not debate this controversial statement.  They could only say if they agreed or disagreed.  Through no fault of my own (trust me, I would have avoided this if I could), I saw this controversial statement underneath that post (I’ve done the best I could to block the statement maker’s identity):

Religion Is Dumbest


I did not respond to this statement on Facebook.  I was not allowed to do so, according to the rules of the post, and I would not have done so anyway; social media wars are futile and I stay out of them.



I do have strong feelings about this statement, though, feelings strong enough that I did want to respond in this (hopefully) more effective platform.  Regardless of the rules of the original post, a response is allowable.  A response is legitimate and necessary.  The statement maker (which is what I’ll call him here) not only laid out an opinion about something this is precious to billions of people on the planet, but he laid out that opinion as if it is fact.  Doing so opens the statement up to attempted verification or, as I believe it is called in the scientific method, “peer review”.  I would therefore like to attempt that verification.  I would like to provide that review.  I would like to test this statement to see if it is actually the fact it is presented as being.

Here’s what I find as I do:

Religion is not the dumbest thing on the planet.  This is the hardest part of the statement to test, as “dumbest” here is clearly subjective.  I would suggest, though, that there are many things which are far dumber than religion.  Sports are rather dumb.  When I was in Cincinnati, a new football stadium was being proposed.  Many locals did not like the proposal (nor the related proposal that they be taxed for it).  Someone wrote a letter in the opinion page of the local paper asking why we were building an open-air stadium in inclement weather territory that would only be used eight times a year to host millionaires throwing balls to each other.  I think there is a lot of logic to the first couple items in that statement, but it is the one about millions throwing balls to each other which really gets me.  That really is what sports boils down to: millionaires (in the case of the NFL, at least) throwing balls to each other or hitting balls with sticks or performing other physical feats.  It isn’t a leap to say watching such a thing, much less being as obsessed with it as we are, is somewhat dumb.  Entertainment, our other great obsession, is pretty dumb as well.  In an old episode of The Simpsons, guest star Mark Hamill sings a song about Star Wars in which he refers to the cast as “all the other puppets”.  That is what many of the characters in Star Wars were.  It is what just about everything we see in movies and on TV are: puppets or models or CGI, that is, things which don’t really exist.  Once again, the obsession with such things seems pretty dumb to me.  So maybe I can’t prove this one, but I don’t think religion really is the absolute, number one, incontestable dumbest thing on the planet.  I don’t even think it makes the short list.


Religion is not evil.  This is easier to test.  It is also somewhat absurd.  It seems quite illogical to me to attempt to debunk religion (as the statement maker is trying to do) using a religious term such as evil (which is what the statement maker does).  There is no such things as evil if religion is truly false as the statement maker suggests.  There is no evil in a materialistic or naturalistic universe.  There is no good or righteous either.  There is only is.  That which exists just exists without any moral qualification.  It is not evil for a bull walrus to have a harem of female walruses which he controls.  It is not good, either.  It just is.  The same is true of every reality (murder, kidnapping, slavery, assault, etc.).  If there is no religion (that is, if there is no absolute right or wrong/good or evil which transcends the natural order, as religion suggests there is), then there is no such thing as evil.

But for the sake of argument, let’s ignore the logical inconsistency and consider the claim.  The statement maker says religion is evil.  I say it’s not.  Yes, there are those who say that religion causes violence or oppression or what have you (entire books can be and have been written on this subject, many of which debunk it), but I believe I have far more experience with religious people than those who are saying these things.  Being a life-long Christian and minister, I personally know at least a thousand faithful people and have been in close relationship with dozens or more.  Not one of them was violent.  Some of them were grumpy or disagreeable (which was due more to their flesh than their faith), but not a one of them was guilty of any act which could be called evil (again, murder, etc).  Not one of them was led to commit such an act by their faith.  Not one of them would even consider committing such an act because of or in the name of their faith.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers giving to the less fortunate because of their faith.  Let me offer you just one example: at this writing, my congregation is preparing to give Christmas meals and gifts to needy families in our community.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers working for social justice because of their faith.  Let me again offer you just one example: a missionary came to our church two years ago and showed us a video of a roomful of young Filipino girls saying, “Thank you, Jesus!”; these girls had been rescued from sex slavery by Christian missionaries.  What I have seen are hundreds of believers improved by their faith.  Let me yet again offer you one example: myself.  I sacrifice for and serve my wife and daughter daily, and I don’t do it because I’m a nice guy.  I do it because Jesus has taught me to do it and (I believe) empowers me to do it.  I don’t just do those things or the countless other good things I do every day because I’m good; I do them because of Jesus.  I do them specifically in the name of Jesus.

At the very least, an outside observer has to admit that religion is not all bad.  I think such an observer, if honest, has to admit it is not even close to bad, nowhere near evil.

Religion does not live on only because of the continual brainwashing of newborns.  This part of the statement is the easiest to debunk.  The statement maker suggests the only reason anyone has faith is because they are taught to have faith at a young age (presumably an age too young to “know better” or be able to intellectually evaluate truth claims).  This is patently false.  The indisputable fact is that many people have come to faith in their adulthood as a result of examining the evidence for faith.  C.S. Lewis is one obvious individual.  Lee Strobel is another.  J. Warner Wallace is a third.  Those are names I can pull off my head mere seconds after processing this statement.  If I  put more effort into it, I can come up with thousands more.  I myself fit into this category to some degree.  Though I was raised in a Christian home, I made my own choice to have faith.  I did so through a conversion moment at the edge of twelve.  I made my own choice to be serious about the faith through a similar re-conversion moment at the age of fourteen.  I constantly reevaluate the truth claims of my faith today.  I constantly reevaluate them and constantly find that they (or at the very least something very similar to them) must be true.  What the statement maker says, then, is just plain incorrect.  It is not true that faith lives on only through brainwashing.  It is not true that faith lives on only in the young or unintelligent.  It is instead true that many older, intelligent, fully-capable people have come to and held on to faith via their own thoughtful investigations.

Religion is not “rediculous”.  I don’t know if “rediculous” is a typo or a stylistic choice.  It doesn’t matter either way (and if it is a typo, that’s no big deal; typos do not nullify ideas and should not be picked at).  I know what the statement maker is saying.  He is saying the truth claims of religion illogical and unreasonable, so much so that they can be rejected after a second’s evaluation.  It is an accusation many non-believers make towards faith (one well-known actor, for example, once called the Christian account of creation “bananas” on the record).  I again find this to be false.  There is nothing obviously ridiculous about religion, nothing so obviously ridiculous as to make it unbelievable.   If fact, to me the opposite seems more the case.  Those who hold to a materialistic worldview regularly describe that worldview as “reasonable” or “based on reason”, but I fail to see the reason they are talking about.  In fact, what they are talking about seems to violate reason.  I live on a city park.  That park has buildings, playgrounds, trees, greens, ball fields, and various other items both organic and inorganic.  I look at these items and immediate understand that they all came from somewhere, that someone put them where they are.  Some person or persons whom I don’t know and never met and who may have died before I was born laid out the park and built those buildings and planted those trees.  Not only so, but the trees themselves came from the seeds of other trees, and the grass from the seed of other grass.  Nothing there is without a progenitor if not an actual creator.  Nothing I see when I look out my front window brought itself into being; everything I see was brought into being by something I don’t now see.  Absolutely everything.  There is not one thing I see that does not have a creator.  I know that instantly, automatically, subconsciously.  Why is it “reasonable”, then, to assume that the universe itself, of which my park is just a minuscule part, was not likewise created or brought into being by something/someone I’m not now seeing?  Why is it “reasonable” to think that the only thing which violates this obvious principle of creation-by-creator is the biggest thing in existence, the universe itself?  Why do materialistic-minded people think that such a theory, which violates everything I see and experience, is not only reasonable but obviously so?  I can’t answer that question.  It does not seem reasonable to me.  It does not seem obviously reasonable.  It seems like something a person has to work very hard at believing.  By that same token, I don’t find religion to be ridiculous or rediculous or anything of the sort.  I think it makes perfect sense.  I think it fits perfectly with everything I know about life.

There were several Facebookers who agreed with the maker of this statement.  The only allowable responses were “agree” and “disagree”, and the brief glance I gave the post showed three or more “agrees”.  But I vehemently disagree.  I have to vehemently disagree.  I have to vehemently disagree not because I’m some bitter, brainwashed religionist but because no element of this statement is factual; no element of this statements matches the facts as the statement maker claims they do.  The third one clearly doesn’t; that’s so easily disprovable that it becomes dismissable.  The first, second, and fourth don’t, either.  They might not be as easily disprovable, but there is certainly evidence against them.

People are allowed to say what they want, and always should be.  But if someone says something testable, others should be allowed to test it.  I’ve tested this statement, and I find it to be false across the board.