Friday, November 15, 2013

Questions for Christians

a review by Edd Doerr

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, by Guy P. Harrison. Prometheus Books, 2013, 352 pp, $18.

It is neither impertinent nor rude to raise questions. Journalist, world traveler and former teacher of history and science Guy Harrison does that very well indeed. This charming, eminently enjoyable book is a respectful compilation of questions about every aspect of traditional Christian belief. He makes the valid points that key religious beliefs simply do not stand up to critical or skeptical inquiry but are ingrained by tradition, culture and education, and praises the skeptical outlook for everyone with regard not only to religion but to advertizing, politics and everything else. His conclusion (on page 323) is worth quoting in toto --

"Many atheists and skeptics make the mistake of imagining that the future is not big enough for Christianity. But the future certainly can accommodate Christianity, at least it can if Christianity continues to evolve. No one should overlook the many Christians today who adhere to a Christianity that presents no problems for the world and does no harm to humans. I know many people who call themselves Christians, who apparently believe in Jesus, who probably pray, and who presumably hope they will go to heaven one day. But for all intents and purposes, that is the extent of it. They have no malice toward other kinds of believers or nonbelievers. They not only accept social and scientific progress, they want more of it. And they believe there is a future for humankind worth dreaming of and working toward. They see a better world on the horizon, not doomsday. I certainly have no problem sharing the planet with these Christians."

Harrison would probably join me in liking Christians like the eminent German Catholic theologian Hans Kung (I can't manage to get the umlaut over the "u"). Here is what Kung has to say in his great 1991 book  Global Responsibiity: In Search of a New World Ethic --

"Even believers would have to concede that a moral life is possible without religion. To what extent? 1. Biographically and psychologically there are sufficient reasons why enlightened contemporaries want to renounce religion which had deteriorated into obscurantism, superstition, stultification and 'opium' of the people. 2. Empirically it is indisputable that non-religious people in fact have a basic ethical orientation and lead a moral life even without religion, indeed that in history there have often been religious non-believers who pioneered a new sense of human worth and did more for adulthood, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and other human rights than their religious allies. 3. Anthropologically,  it cannot be denied that many non-religious people in principle  have also developed and possess goals and priorities, values and norms, ideals and models, criteria for truth and falsehood. 4. Philosophically, there is no denying that men and women as rational beings have a real human autonomy which allows them to have a basic trust in reality even without a belief in God, and leads them to perceive their responsibility in the world: a responsibility for themselves and the  world.

"So it is beyond dispute that many secular people nowadays are pioneering a morality which takes its bearings from the human dignity of all men and women, and according to present understanding this human dignity includes reason and responsibility, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and the other human rights which have become established over the course of a long history -- often enough
laboriously over against the established religions." He goes on to state that religious people and humanists must work together to build a better world for all, despite the opposition of suppressive "fanatical believers".

Harrison, Kung and I seem to be on the same page.

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