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Which is Responsible for More Evil, the Church or Atheism?

The last several days have been inspired by comments on the Greta Christina blog post that inspired February’s “Unlikely Bedfellows” post here on TSR. In some of her responses to readers’ comments, she discusses various arguments for and against both faith and atheism. While I passionately disagree with much of what she says and supports, I respect her stated desire to have rational discussion on the merits of different worldviews.

She takes issue with certain classic Christian arguments about atheism, such as more evil has been committed by atheists than the Church, and responds that it is the other way around.

As I thought about the topic, I realized it is a pathetic argument from either direction.

The Christian version goes something like, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, et al have killed more people by orders of magnitude that all of the Crusades, Inquisitions and other bad policies of Christians combined.

Greta states in response to a reader’s comment, “In the future, if I were you, I would think very carefully before I played the Stalin card in conversations with atheists. It is one of the ugliest forms of bigotry that gets aimed at us -- and it's one of the most common. It is a classic example of what I mean when I say that ecumenical believers resort to bigotry in their interactions with us.”

Her complaint is that the argument equates all atheists with the evils of Stalin. It goes the other way too. To say religion is evil because of the sins committed by Christians (even those in leadership), is the same logical fallacy.

There is a logical fallacy in the Christian argument too. It is numerically true about the comparative death tolls. In fact, there really is no comparison. However, what I realized when thinking through this the other day was that it doesn’t take intent and technology into account. If the technology available to 20th century atheists was available to those committing the Church-instigated horrors of the past, I have little doubt they would have used such methods and been comparable in their effects. Their intent was just as evil as those of the atheistic leaders panned.

Thus, we see that in either case, there are both moral and immoral theists and atheists. What is the common factor? Humans are involved in every case. Therefore, we see the reality of the human condition, not the inherent cons of the worldview espoused.

Where do we go from here? We can look at the proposed causes and solutions each present for the human condition. Much has been written about that, and frankly, it still isn’t ‘settled,’ as the moral atheists can live "better lives" without Christ in their hearts than immoral Christians. I personally believe that when they do so, they are basing their morality on the natural law God has placed in our hearts and just not recognizing the source, but they would obviously argue differently, which is fine. I’ll agree to disagree at this point. The immoral Christians are ‘simply’ not living a life consistent with their stated beliefs, which again, is a sign that they are human and in need of Christ’s work in their lives.

So, where do I land at a key distinction between these two worldviews? I would say that it goes down to evidence and the will. What evidence is there that a given worldview is true, and how will we choose to interpret that evidence, evaluating the various interpretations of that evidence for internal and external consistency and efficacy in daily life (though the efficacy argument alone is insufficient)?

I know, I know. I keep coming back to the issue of the will. I do so because that is where the heart of the issue of Christian redemption resides on the human side of the equation. I can’t help it. Fundamentally, we are called to make a choice of worldview. No one else can make it for us. Yes, our upbringing is a huge factor, but we are still responsible for whether we keep our heritage or choose a different path. That path has existential consequences, so it behooves us not to choose it lightly, and be willing to examine the apparent strengths and weaknesses of each, and to the best extent possible, push aside our biases.

Our worldview is the single most critical issue we must address, and we are given a lifetime to do it. The sooner we start the better.

Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
-Joshua, successor to Moses as the leader of Israel


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