In the Words of Leo Tolstoy

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“No longer able to believe in the Church religion, whose falsehood they had detected, and incapable of accepting true Christian teaching, which denounced their whole manner of life, these rich and powerful people, stranded without any religious conception of life, involuntarily returned to that pagan view of things which places life’s meaning in personal enjoyment.”

“Not only does the action of Governments not deter men from crimes; on the contrary, it increases crime by always disturbing and lowering the moral standard of society. Nor can this be otherwise, since always and everywhere a Government, by its very nature, must put in the place of the highest, eternal, religious law (not written in books but in the hearts of men, and binding on every one) its own unjust, man-made laws, the object of which is neither justice nor the common good of all but various considerations of home and foreign expediency.”

tolstoy

“Condemn me if you choose — I do that myself, — but condemn me, and not the path which I am following, and which I point out to those who ask me where, in my opinion, the path is.”

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

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A Bad Reason for Disbelieving the Bible

A commenter on this blog recently wrote the following about the Bible:

“It’s clearly cobbled together in order to try and make a complete statement, but the sources are so diverse that it does not succeed. If Roman Catholics accept this mess cobbled together by committees (“OK guys, which books should we include? What do we want our Christianity to be? If there is a God then he hasn’t made that clear so we better do the job for him.”) It’s history has no more credibility than the Book or Mormon or the Scientology story – all made up by men.”

I’ve run into this argument a few times before. It denies the credibility of the Bible because of when and where it was put together (or “cobbled together,” for those who prefer emotive language). In other words, “the Bible obviously isn’t the inspired word of God, because we know that it was put together cobbled together by committees somewhere around 400 A.D.!”

This cold, hard logic comes as a crushing blow to all those silly Christians who believe the Bible (King James Version!) fell from the sky on a silver platter.

Except Christians don’t believe that.

Seriously though. I’m pretty sure there are exactly zero Christians who believe that.

Christians believe the books of the Bible were written over the span of hundreds of years by numerous individuals who were directly inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). Christians believe God worked through these writers to deliver His message. So it’s not at all unreasonable to think that God could have worked through men on committees to ensure that the correct books were included in biblical canon.

TL;DR – Christians believe the Bible was inspired by God. And penned by human authors. And collected and distributed by humans. None of this is surprising or disturbing.

Tarkovsky Films and Christian Allegory

I’m an enthusiastic fan of foreign film – from the works of Andrei Tarkovsky to those of Akira Kurosawa. Tarkovsky’s films are especially noteworthy for their religious imagery, so I wasn’t at all surprised to come across this article on Christianity Today.

“The most revered Russian filmmaker since Sergei Eisenstein, Tarkovsky offers an unabashedly religious worldview, without which, he wrote, ‘people cease to feel any need for the beautiful or the spiritual, and consume films like bottles of Coca-Cola.'”

(Aside: For more on the relationship between art, beauty, and religion, I strongly recommend Roger Scruton’s documentary, “Why Beauty Matters“.)

tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky

The article goes on,

“The influence of Russian religious history is also evident in his use of the Holy Fool, an archetype of Russian literature—often characters of deep faith, seen as fools by the world, yet who see God’s reality as it truly is.

All his films deal with apocalyptic scenarios; indeed, one film idea he had was titled ‘The End of the World,’ yet he refused the label ‘pessimist.’ Indeed, he said of apocalyptic literature, ‘It would be wrong to consider that the Book of Revelation only contains within itself a concept of punishment, of retribution; it seems to me that what it contains above all, is hope.'”

For anyone interested, most of Tarkovsky’s films can be found free online. I’d recommend starting with my personal favorite, “The Stalker”. Gregory Schreck provides some fascinating historical context:

“Andrei Tarkovsky’s last film made in the Soviet Union, The Stalker (1977), illustrates the difficulty of properly interpreting his work, and rightly understood, underscores his Christian perception of life and struggle…[The] script approved by censors included a clear indictment of the United States and, seemingly, of capitalism. Yet the finished film, with obvious religious overtones, and with a protagonist who looks like a political prisoner right out of the Gulag, infuriated Soviet authorities. The Stalker turned out to be a condemnation of materialism, both East and West, and ultimately caused Tarkovsky to leave the Soviet Union to finish his career in exile.”

The Drowning Stranger: A Problem for Secular Humanists

Here’s a thought experiment.

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Imagine that you’re a healthy, athletic, 20-year-old male. It’s the morning after a thunderstorm, and you’re standing on the banks of a flooded, violently churning river.

You notice an object floating downstream.

whitewater

As it moves closer, you suddenly realize that this object is a person. The head breaks the surface, and you see a panic-stricken elderly woman gasping for air. You’ve never met her before, but vaguely recognize her as an impoverished widow from a neighboring village.

You look around for help, but there’s no one in sight. You have only seconds to decide whether or not to jump in after her – recognizing that doing so will put your own life in significant peril.

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Is it rational for you to risk your life to save this stranger? Is it morally good to do so?

For the Christian, both of these questions can be answered with an emphatic “yes”.

The Christian is called to emulate the example set forth by Jesus, who not only risked, but sacrificed his life for the sake of others. The Christian believes that the soul is eternal, and that one’s existence doesn’t come to an abrupt end with death.  Additionally, he can point to the examples of countless Christian martyrs who have willingly sacrificed their own lives.

For the secular humanist, the answers to these questions are much more subjective. When I previously asked 23 self-identifying atheists, “Is it rational for you to risk your life to save a stranger?” only 4 of them responded with an unqualified “yes”.

Biologically speaking, the young man in our scenario has nothing to gain by jumping after the drowning woman. Since she’s poor and elderly, there are no conceivable financial or reproductive advantages involved. Evolutionary biologists often speak of “benefit to the tribe” as a motivation for self-sacrifice…yet the young man’s community would certainly place greater practical value on his life than that of a widow from a neighboring village.

Secular humanists argue that people are capable of making ethical decisions without any deity to serve as Moral Lawgiver. On a day-to-day basis, this is undeniably true. We all have non-religious friends and neighbors who live extremely moral and admirable lives.

In the scenario above, however, secular ethics break down. The secular humanist might recognize, intuitively, that diving into the river is a morally good action. But he has no rational basis for saying so. The young man’s decision is between empathy for a stranger (on the one hand) and utilitarian self-interest & community-interest (on the other).

In the end, there can be no binding moral imperatives in the absence of a Moral Lawgiver. If the young man decides to sit back and watch the woman drown, the secular humanist cannot criticize him. He’s only acting rationally.

Why Do So Many Christians Favor “Small Government”?

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

– C.S. Lewis

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Anyone who tries to claim that the Bible prescribes his or her specific political opinions should be met with a certain degree of skepticism. The Bible does, however, hint at how Christians should interact with the societies in which they live (go read Acts 5:29 and Luke 20:25). It also provides strong caution against placing one’s confidence in Earthly governments (go read I Samuel 8 and Judges 8:22-23).

My purpose here is to address the common (and erroneous) claim that Christians who favor “small government” are, by definition, being hypocritical. Or as Jimmy Carter puts it,

jimmy carter

For one thing, I only know of maybe 2 or 3 people who oppose tax dollars going to help the poor. All of them are anarchists. So it’s not entirely clear who, exactly, Carter is addressing. But I’m pretty sure he’s just addressing anyone who favors a more limited welfare system than he does.

The real debate, if we’re being honest, is the extent to which – and the means by which – public assistance should be directed to the poor. The question is whether primary responsibility for assisting the poor should rest with government, or with individuals, churches, and private charities.

To many on the Left, conservatives who attempt to reduce the size of the welfare state are either acting out of greed, malice, or a lack of empathy for the poor. In reality, the conservative’s goal is to limit and decentralize power. The conservative understands that power leads to corruption, and that powerful, centralized governments have a long history of abusing human rights.

The conservative also recognizes the importance of individual responsibility and the dignity of providing for oneself and one’s family. In this sense, the conservative is concerned not only with the poor man’s physical needs, but also with his spiritual, non-material needs. Any form of government assistance should therefore have the aim of making the recipient self-sufficient, rather than perpetually reliant on public assistance.

Unfortunately, there’s an epidemic of young, progressive, “enlightened” individuals in this country who eagerly vote to expand the welfare state, and conclude that this makes them champions of the poor. Yet when asked, directly, what they’ve personally done for the poor, the only things they can come up with are Holding Benevolent Opinions, paying taxes, and maybe attending a charity walk.

I realize that sounds a tad anecdotal…but as it turns out, there’s solid data to back it up. According to research out of Syracuse University, “people who reject the idea that ‘government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality’ give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.” In the U.S., conservative states consistently see higher levels of charitable giving than liberal states.

In short: when a person considers his taxes to be a legitimate form of charity, he becomes less charitable.

The modern progressive, unwilling to recognize mankind’s fallen condition, sincerely believes that the State provides the means of realizing his egalitarian utopia. The Christian should know better. Those who place their faith in the strong arm of government walk a fine line between folly and idolatry.

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See also:

“Why Christians Make Great Libertarians” (part 1, part 2, part 3)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quotes

“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”

“There are things for which an uncompromising stand is worthwhile.”

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

“In the New Testament our enemies are those who harbour hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility, for Jesus refuses to reckon with such a possibility.”

“When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

“As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love. God makes your marriage indissoluble.”

“It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.”