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Back to Christian Witnessing: to Postmoderns

Dan Augsburger
Comparing Philosophy and Christianity
A Letter to a Young Adult

This is a portion of a letter I wrote to a young adult who was taking a philosophy class in a community college and being daily challenged by a professor whose stated agenda was to destroy the student’s confidence in the Bible and the Christian understanding of life. Dan A.


Satan’s Agenda

It goes without saying that your enemy, who seeks to “kill, steal and to destroy” (John 10:10), who goes about as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), is seeking those he may devour-which includes you, and me, and everyone else.

He does so in a variety of ways.

His preferred choice is to make sure we never hear about God.

He loves to get us to make decisions that bring on heartbreaking consequences and keep us from ever wanting to know about God.

If that doesn’t work, he works to make sure we never hear anything positive about God, and that we misunderstand what should be quite clear.

If that doesn’t work, he will try to get us to make a partial surrender, for he knows that a partial surrender will bring about mixed spiritual results-sufficient religion to make us miserable, but not enough to make us happy.

If that doesn’t work he will try to have us misunderstand how we are saved, so that we will try to work our way into a relationship with God and be saved by our own works-which is highly frustrating and leads to much defeat and a “mixed” life experience.

If that doesn’t work, he will try to get us to minimize what God has said and get us to do our own thing.

If that doesn’t work he will try to get us headed off in directions of our own choosing instead of God’s so that he can tie us up in various ways-financially, relationally, vocationally, etc..

All of these efforts on Satan’s part are disguised forms of the first lie expressed to Eve when he asked the question, “Has God indeed said…?” Eve responded correctly in telling him that they were allowed to eat any fruit except the tree in the middle of the garden, and that if they ate of that tree, they would die.

Satan responded by saying, “You shall not surely die! For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-5) Satan was suggesting that there was a greater happiness and joy of discovery that was possible to humans who chose to seek that joy and happiness outside of their relationship with God.

In reading the quotation from page 62 of your philosophy textbook, I couldn’t help but think of the first lie Satan expressed to Eve and how that lie continues to be repeated in our day, just in different forms. But a lie is a lie, and even though it comes packaged differently, it is still a lie.

Unfortunately, the lie is expressed in our day much more subtly than it was to Eve. Then Satan said, “You will surely not die!” Now he says, “morality is a matter of reason and conscience.” The insidious suggestion throughout is that we somehow have within ourselves the ability to correctly understand and make decisions based on our own conclusions and experiences-our formulating our own moral center-instead of looking to God, and being directed by God. It is a very alluring suggestion and many fall for it.

Adam and Eve’s own children, Cain and Abel were affected by it, Abel bringing a lamb as directed by God; Cain choosing to bring his own offering of vegetables. Abel’s offering was accepted; Cain’s was rejected. Cain became so angry that he murdered Abel. People still become angry in our day when the suggestion is made that God still has the last and best word.


Satan’s Agenda Revealed in Philosophy

Down through history people have been trying to understand the origins of life, have been seeking to determine their values and morals on a variety of basis, have tried to develop a philosophical understanding of life, and in many cases have come up with foolishness! Granted they don’t acknowledge their conclusions to be foolishness, but it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that some of it doesn’t hold water.

Take for example Frederick Nietzche, who was a much followed philosopher for a time.

Nietzche, though born of a pastor’s family-in fairness we must acknowledge his dad died when he was five I believe-decided God was dead and therefore we were on our own. He also had an aristocratic view towards life, and believed that a superman could take over and create the ideal conditions for the world. He hated Christianity, socialism and democracy, because all of them stood in the way of a certain class of super people having their own way. One of his students was Adolf Hitler, who followed what he wrote to its ultimate outcome, and brought on WWII and the holocaust. Nietzche had a mental breakdown at the end of his life. In his mind the strong are better than the weak (which included women, for him), and the strong should enjoy exploiting the weak for its own ends. He also thought morality was a hindrance to the development of new and better customs; that it made one stupid. Needless to say, a philosophy that willingly sacrifices millions of people, that sets up one group of people as a super race that can do whatever it needs to gain its own ends, is hardly a philosophy that I would want to buy in to.

There were also the Huxleys and their Brave New World. Their world looked for happiness derived from consuming mass-produced goods, exotic sports, promiscuous sex, “the feelies,” and most famously a supposedly perfect pleasure-drug called “soma.” I’m not sure their world is the kind I would want to be a part of.

There was also Bertrand Russell. Notice what someone said about him: “It should be pointed out in passing that Russell’s pontifications about history have all the characteristics of the dogmatic religious narrowness and bigoted ignorance that he professed to loathe. No historian, Christian or non-Christian, would ever make the kind of simplistic assertions that Russell made. Nor should any well-read high school student be without the knowledge to refute them. How can a man of Russell’s intellectual stature and education express such utter nonsense? The answer may be that Russell is to some atheists what the fundamentalist preacher is to uneducated Christians. What he provides for his followers in the National Secular Society is not enlightenment, but emotional support, a goal that, in cases where factual and logical proof are insufficient or not understood, can best be achieved by extreme rhetoric.” Did he find something better? No. Notice the following: “all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins - all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand” A Free Man’s Worship. Those who followed Russell in real life found that he didn’t follow his own maxims, having continuing issues with the woman in his life, lying to get out of problems and having personally-contrived ethics that were self-serving.

Some people have pointed to John Paul Sartre and his existential philosophy. Without going into detail, he was somewhat of a communist, and yet wasn’t happy with communism either, and in the end of his life committed suicide.

There have been other philosophers as well, and each has had his or her following. Some of them make more sense than others, but all are to be evaluated for their foundation and their outcomes. And, Christianity can be defended against all of them. In some cases they are not necessarily opposed to religion, or even Christianity, but they don’t necessarily see the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.


Defending One’s Beliefs

How then does a person defend him or herself against the critics?


Positive Lines of Reasoning

Some of the positive lines of reasoning have included the following:

A. The universe points to God

1. That is, if anything exists, it had to come from something. Something can’t come from nothing. Since the universe has a beginning, something had to start it. 2. We have the evidence of complexity and design. We see the fingerprints of a designer all around us. Granted this has been recently challenged in a big way in the courts, but what a secular judge decides isn’t what determines truth. It’s hard to believe that the world around us all happened by accident. 3. There is also the moral argument that recognizes that all people have a sense of “right” and “wrong.” Where did this come from? For a secular person to argue against such things as “right” and “wrong,” in spite of this argument is to ignore the evidence.


B. The Bible is an authentic document.

1. It’s record of history-the details of people, places and events-has been confirmed hundreds of times. 2. There is an internal unity in spite of 40 different authors who were writing over 1,500 years. 3. It has been preserved over 5,000 years without hardly anything being changed-in some cases even the grammatical errors were maintained over the years. 4. Portions of it were written within 50 years of the events (Compare this to the writings of Plato which are accepted as authentic, and yet existing manuscripts come 1,200 years after he died). 4. Hundreds of prophecies came true.
5. It gives consistent answers to life’s questions, and these answers have stood the test of time.

C. Jesus was the real thing.

1. His friends and his enemies couldn’t find anything wrong with his life. 2. He has affected history more than any other person. Even the calendar (B.C. and A.D. attest to this) to say nothing of several holidays. 3. His coming was pointed to by over 70 prophecies. 4. His resurrection was attested to not only in the Bible, but by secular historians (Josephus is one example). 5. His resurrection was never successfully refuted by his enemies who were living at the time and had every reason and desire to destroy the idea that He had been resurrected.

D. Many people have experienced the power of God in their lives.

1. Many have seen their lives change in dramatic ways as a result of a relationship with Jesus. 2. Many prayers have been answered (I could personally cite many examples). 3. Proof of the reliability of its claims and principles is evidenced by the testimony of lives over hundreds of years.


Some Negative Lines of Reasoning

Some negative arguments against philosophical conclusions that leave God out of their reasoning include…

A. Pointing out prejudiced conjecture (biased speculative assertions that are assumed but not true if examined) Many individuals who are arguing against Christianity don’t know what they are talking about. Many of the things suggested are untrue (for example that the Bible was altered by various scribes that were involved in copying and preserving it). A good question here is: “What have you personally studied to know that this is true?”

B. Philosophical Biases
In this case, a person has made certain assumptions out of his or her preconceived opinion of how things are, rather than doing so on the basis of fact. Were we unfamiliar with two-headed Siamese twins, we might argue that such a phenomena was impossible. Yet we know it is true. So the same happens in many philosophical arguments. It might be argued that miracles can’t happen, because miracles suggest an outside higher power is working. But there are many examples to prove they do happen, and the historians of Jesus day recorded miracles back then. Remember the Bible is a history book and should be given the same credence as any other book of history-we obviously believe it to be more than just history, but a secular non-believer should at least have the intellectual integrity to acknowledge it as a history book-and the Bible is full of recorded miracles. If they would have been false, the enemies of God-particularly in Jesus’ day-would have squashed all such suggestions if they could have, but didn’t-the evidence was irrefutable and impossible to hide! So, they attacked Jesus’ credibility to say he was of the devil and that the source of his miracles were the devil. Still today, destroying credibility is a favorite tactic.

C. Intellectual Deficits
The two great intellectual deficits are being inconsistent and being arbitrary. What is true for one thing, should be as true for the next? And the definitions shouldn’t be based on a particular person’s world-view, but one that can be supported broadly-a personal view by definition is arbitrary. Here I am quoting someone: “If people are allowed to believe just anything they wish to believe out of convenience, tradition or prejudice, they have abandoned the course of rationality, which calls for having a good reason for the things we believe and do. On the other hand, if people are allowed to assert (or rely upon) certain premises, only later to abandon or contradict those very same premises, then they have violated the fundamental requirements for sound reasoning. In both cases a person’s thinking and beliefs become unpredictable and unreliable.” So, to demand evidence for creation, but not demand the same evidence for evolution-for example explain the gaps and why are things getting worse instead of better-is inconsistent. By the same token to insist that each person has within themselves the ability to come to the proper moral conclusions is based on a very limited perspective and therefore arbitrary. By the same token, to insist that everyone deserves equal rights-woman, disabled people, poor people, people of alternative life styles-but not afford those same rights to Christians is inconsistent and arbitrary. Note here we are talking about inconsistency and arbitrariness as intellectual blind spots.

D. Inconsistency
Sometimes the people arguing fail to see their own inconstancies, and it is our right to point them out. For example they criticize the lack of proof for creation, yet feel comfortable defending evolution. Both take faith!

E. Issues having to do with logic.
For example, here a person might argue something on the basis of popular sentiment-as if what the majority thinks is proof that something is correct (but have the individuals who make up the majority personally taken the time to authenticate what they believe or are they taking it second hand from someone else? Has every person been quizzed to determine if the majority really believe this way? And, should the majority necessarily have the right answer). In almost all cases this isn’t true, and the people arguing will quickly back away from this when it comes to the feelings of the majority against their own pet causes. Nietzche for example had no interest in what the majority thought, since he looked for a super race to control things. And if this is all about individual reasoning and morals, then how can one speak of the majority?

F. Inconsistent Behavior
This would be like Sartre and Beauvoir who espoused certain ethical values, but lived very inconsistently. A biographer speaks of Sartre’s relentless mania for seduction and Beauvoir’s defensive bisexuality, and details with some dismay the astonishing tangle of their vaguely incestuous, always manipulative affairs. Sartre financially supports the lovers he betrays, while Beauvoir is stunningly two-faced. But in spite of their exhaustingly complex and cruel love lives, Sartre and Beauvoir never stop writing or taking courageous stands against fascism, prejudice, sexism, and war. Here we are referring to saying one thing, but doing something else-things that betray the fact that the person doesn’t really believe what they assert. For example, if your professor says that each person can determine what is right, it would suggest that you could walk up to his desk and take his computer and teaching materials. He would undoubtedly cry foul. But if he really believes what he said, he would go along with it. This speaks to the inconsistency of words, and the arbitrary drawing of lines for self-serving purposes.


Responding with Killer Questions

Here are five killer questions that always help:

1. What do you mean by that?
2. How do you personally know this to be true?
3. Where did you get your information?
4. What difference will this make in your life?
5. What if you are wrong?


Concluding

I know this is rather long, but your questions deserved more than a short answer.

I would also have difficulty defending my beliefs against a hard core person. Don’t feel like you need to, but you can ask questions. But you are at such a disadvantage that it isn’t fair. He is going to talk about the need to be open-minded, but he isn’t open-minded one bit. He wants everyone to be open to what he believes, but not the other way around. So, you are listening to a person who has inconsistencies from the get go! And the text book is an example of what this world is trying to pawn off to thinking people-and sadly a lot of young adults buy into it because they don’t have their guard up, nor do they know how to respond.

But remember, when everything is said and done, Christianity is first and foremost about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We can debate all we want, and even be good at it, but what matters is what happens when we are in the “secret” place with God, talking with Him, hearing from Him through His word, making ourselves available to Him, etc.. The world at some point doesn’t care much about your answers, if all they see is a person with a little Christian veneer. But if they see Jesus living in you, they will want Him for themselves. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.” Lift Him up, therefore, and see what happens. I am trying to do the same thing!

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