I happened to run across a blog post today entitled 40 Questions to Ask a Christian by Thomas Swan. As I have time, I will give a brief response to each one. Here are my answers to the first twelve.
1. If a hundred different religions have to be wrong for yours to be right, does this show that people from all over the world like to invent gods that don’t exist?
Yes it does. And Scripture makes this same observation also. When people do not like the God who is, they manufacture gods more suitable to their tastes (Rom. 1:18-25; cf. Ps. 106:20).
The implication, however, is that if so many gods are “invented,” the God of the Bible must be invented too. This is about as persuasive as arguing that the existence of thousands of Elvis impersonators means there never was any such thing as the real thing.
2. If your parents had belonged to a different religion, do you think you would belong to that religion too?
Yes, it is quite likely. But it is logically irrelevant to whether a particular religion is true or false. I am profoundly grateful that God placed me in a Christian family and that even when I strayed into agnosticism he helped me return to my senses.
3. If people from the five major religions are each told conflicting information by their respective gods, should any of them be believed?
If five different people give five different accounts of, say, a crime or an automobile accident, should any of them be believed? Would you have us simply dismiss them all? May not one of them be correct? Shouldn’t an investigation be held? Shouldn’t the credibility of the witnesses be examined? Shouldn’t we see if there is any other corroborating evidence?
4. How can you tell the voice of God from a voice in your head?
Easy. The only voice in my head is my own.
5. How can you tell the voice of God from the voice of the Devil?
I assume you mean in my head? If so, refer to my answer to the previous question.
6. Would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed God supported you in the act?
Undoubtedly. But let me explain. God allows killing in three (and only three) circumstances: (1) self-defense, (2) capital punishment by a lawfully ordained civil magistrate, and (3) in a just war.
I am not a civil magistrate so #2 doesn’t apply to me, unless it should be in an indirect way (e.g., if I should be called upon to serve as a juror in a capital crime).
If I should find myself in a situation in which I or a member of my family or another innocent party was in danger of being murdered or suffering great bodily harm at the hands of a criminal (#1), or if I should find myself fighting in a just war (#3), I hope I would have the courage to kill. And yes it would be easier to kill in these circumstances knowing that God supported me in the act.
7. If God told you to kill an atheist, would you?
I have a question for you, Mr. Swan: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Your question is no less loaded or complex than mine.
(For those unversed in logic, a “loaded” or “complex” question is one that requires a yes or no answer but makes an unwarranted assumption that gets a person into trouble no matter which way he responds. Consider the “have you stopped being your wife” question. The question requires a yes or no answer, but either answer implicates you, and it may very well be the case that neither answer is appropriate. For most people the question is unanswerable with a simple yes or no because they have never beaten their wives. And so it is with Mr. Swan’s question, “If God told you to kill an atheist, would you?” The question is based on two false premises: (1) that God speaks directly to individuals, and (2) that he would command someone to kill an atheist because he is an atheist.)
As far as the matter of killing is concerned, see my answer to the previous question.
8. When an atheist is kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart, is his behavior more or less commendable than a religious man who does it because God instructed him to?
Mr. Swan, you seem to be committed to asking either/or questions when there are often more than two alternatives. Is it really so that one may be either “kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart” or kind and charitable “because God instructed him to”? Is it not possible for someone to be kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart and have a regard for God’s command?
The truth is that any one of a number of different motives may be at work in any particular act of kindness. Let us suppose several different people who see someone in need. The first individual feels no natural compassion, and nothing can move him to render aid. The second feels no natural compassion, but nevertheless renders aid because he fears social disapproval if he doesn’t. The third feels no natural compassion, but renders aid because he is trying to impress others with his “kindness and charity.” (Jesus addressed this very thing when he said we shouldn’t sound a trumpet when giving alms to the poor, Matt. 6:1-4). The fourth feels no natural compassion, but nevertheless renders aid because God (in the Scriptures) commands him to. The fifth feels natural compassion and renders aid, and has a regard for God’s instructions.
To come to the point, it is commendable to be “kind and charitable out of the kindness of one’s heart”; but it is even better to be kind and charitable out of the kindness of one’s heart, and seek to honor God in doing so.
9. If you are against the Crusades and the Inquisition, would you have been burned alive as a heretic during those events?
Perhaps during the Inquisition; but perhaps not, since its scope is often exaggerated. This is not to excuse it, however. The Inquisition was by no stretch of the imagination compatible with biblical Christianity. Ditto for most of what happened during the Crusades.
But it is far more likely that I would have been guillotined during the atheistic French Revolution or received a bullet to the back of the head under Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot (atheists all). The Inquisition and the Crusades were mere child’s play compared to the body count under various atheistic regimes.
10. If your interpretation of a holy book causes you to condemn your ancestors for having a different interpretation, will your descendants condemn you in the same way?
If your interpretation of reality, Mr. Swan, causes you to condemn your Christian ancestors, will your descendants condemn you in the same way if they interpret it differently than you?
11. Rape wasn't always a crime in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Is that why ‘do not rape’ is not part of the Ten Commandments?
No. Each of the Ten Commandments is a leading example of an entire class of sins and/or crimes. “You shall not push an old woman into the path of a speeding chariot” is not in the Ten Commandments either, but it is implied under the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). Murder is the supreme example of doing bodily harm. All other forms of bodily harm are implied.
Likewise, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14), is representative of all forms of sexual sins and/or crimes, including rape. Scripture often gives summaries of our duty to God and our neighbor. It would be quite unwieldy to have an exhaustive list of every conceivable form of sin and/or crime, as the Statutes of the United States and the United States Code demonstrate.
12. Do lions need ‘god-given’ morality to understand how to care for their young, co-operate within a pack, or feel anguish at the loss of a companion? Why do we?
God created man in his own image and likeness, which among other things includes a basic understanding of right and wrong/good and evil. Since we are both fallen and finite in our understanding, he has supplemented our innate knowledge of him and our moral duty with his word (the Bible).
God did not create animals in his image, but endowed them with various (and often complex) instincts that aid their survival.