July 23, 2015

Crusades versus Christianity

Photo: Kingdom of Heaven (2005 film)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, July 23, 2015

Crusades versus Christianity

Many persons object to Christianity because of the horror of the Crusades (c. 1096-1291). I think this objection can be diffused with four points.

First, contrary to popular opinion, the Crusades were not acts of unprovoked aggression against the Islamic world. The Crusades were in fact a belated response to centuries of Muslim military aggression. As Steve Lee points out in Apologetics Study Bible for Students, "Christian Europe had to defend itself or be overcome by Islamic invasion."
Second, though much evil occurred during the Crusades, the Crusades weren't as bad (comparatively speaking) as many think. Historical perspective is helpful. Compare the goings-on of some officially atheist societies with that of some predominately Christian ones.

The major horrors of Christian Europe—i.e., the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition—amounted to the killing of 1.4 million people. This is terrible and wrong, to be sure.

Significantly, however, the following body count under two officially atheist regimes should also be noticed: China 80,170,000; USSR 61,911,000. Total: over 142 million!

Two officially atheist regimes are responsible for 100 times as many killings than predominantly Christian societies!

(Note: The above numbers are from Rudolph Rummel, a Nobel Peace Prize nominated political science professor at U of Hawaii. Rummel's specialty is the study of genocide and deomcide.)

Third, Christianity's track record is far from wholly negative. Pros—not just cons—should be considered.

Near the end of his seven-volume A History of the Expansion of Christianity (Harper, 1945), Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette concludes as follows:

"[Christianity] has been the most potent force which mankind has known for the dispelling of illiteracy, the creation of schools, [and] for the emergence of new types of education."

Latourette adds: "The universities...were at the outset largely Christian creations.... Music, architecture, painting, poetry, and philosophy have owed some of their greatest achievements to Christianity."

Latourette continues: "Democracy as it was known in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was in large part the outgrowth of Christian teaching. The abolition of Negro slavery was largely due to Christianity. So, too, were the measures to protect the Indians against exploitation of the whites.... The elevation of the status of women owed an incalculable debt to Christianity...."

In fact, according to Latourette, "No other single force has been so widely potent for the relief of suffering brought by famine and for the creation of hospitals and orphanages."

(Recent social-religious historical work by Alvin Schmidt, Rodney Stark, Vishal Mangalwadi, and others confirms Latourette's work.

Fourth, whether the central doctrines of a worldview are true doesn't depend on the failure of adherents to live up to that worldview's moral standards.

For example, if the claim that the God-man Jesus in fact lived, died, and resurrected is true (as I believe it is), then it is not made false by my evil actions. My evil actions only show that I'm a lousy follower of Jesus.

Moreover—and significantly—whereas my wicked behaviour is condemned by Jesus' teachings, Stalin's and Mao's wicked behaviour—i.e., their murder of millions—is not condemned by their philosophies.

Stalin and Mao acted consistently with the Marxist-Leninist principle that a utopian end sometimes justifies dastardly means (such as murdering anyone who disagrees). The Crusaders and Inquisitors, however, when they did evil, acted inconsistently with Jesus' command to love others.

Yes, much evil occurred during the Crusades. But these evils are not inherent to Christianity. They are due to people who claimed to be Christians (and many weren't Christians) but didn't live up to Jesus' teachings. Christians who sin make Christianity unattractive, not false.

The objection to Christianity's truth based on the Crusades is therefore weak.

To recap, the Crusades were a response to Islamic aggression, not an unprovoked attack; the Crusades were, compared to the evils of officially atheist regimes, not as bad as many believe; Christianity has been a huge force for good in the world; the truth of Christianity centers on Jesus Christ—God come to earth as a human being—not the failings of His followers.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

Further reading/ listening:

  • Paul F. Crawford, "Four Myths about the Crusades"
  • Clay Jones, "The Truth about the Crusades": blog post and interview
  • Michael Karounos, Movie review: Kingdom of Heaven
  • July 09, 2015

    The good of disagreement

    By Hendrik van der Breggen
    The Carillon, July 9, 2015

    The good of disagreement

    Disagreement can be tough, but also good. Disagreement, when done well, can develop intellectual virtues.

    In general, a virtue is an excellence of character, where character is a disposition (tendency/ habit of mind) to act in accordance with what's true and good.

    The Apostle Paul famously set out the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love (the greatest being love). Prior to Paul, Plato presented these virtues of the soul: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Augustine later "baptized" Plato's virtues, adding them to (and explaining in accordance with) Paul's list. Other well-known virtues include kindness, patience, gentleness, and self-control.

    Properly understood, virtues are centered in God's holiness and love.

    What about intellectual virtues? Enter: Princeton University philosopher Robert P. George. Much of what follows is gleaned from Professor George's contribution to "The Cost of Freedom: How Disagreement Makes Us Civil," a conversation between George, Cornell West, and Rick Warren.

    As a preface to understanding intellectual virtues, George prioritizes truth and emphasizes, following John Henry Newman (1801-1890), that truth should be pursued for its own sake. Knowledge of truth, though it has instrumental value, is an intrinsic good (i.e., it's good, period).

    Then, following John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), George points out that freedom of thought and freedom of expression are essential conditions of truth-seeking. (We could be mistaken, so such freedom allows us to learn from others.)

    George also points out that the enterprise of truth-seeking (especially in the academic realm) trades in "a currency consisting of reasons and arguments."

    Significantly, then, to excel at truth-seeking we should cultivate personal character traits conducive to achieving knowledge of truth. These are the intellectual virtues.

    Here are three such virtues.

    1. Commitment. In our discussions and debates, we should commit ourselves to discerning truth. Truth is (as mentioned) an intrinsic good. But sometimes it takes work to discover. And sometimes it's unpopular. Commitment is a love of truth, which calls for tenacity and courage.

    Also helpful is proficiency in logic and critical thinking.

    2. Friendship. In our efforts at discerning truth with our interlocutors, we develop what George calls the "bond of truth-seeking." Humans are relational (not merely intellectual) beings, so disagreement—good disagreement—provides opportunity to develop personal relationships rooted in disagreement yet stronger than the disagreement.

    How so? By striving in a common project to arrive at truth together. By listening to each other and learning from each other, even in the midst of stress. This enriches us and ennobles us.

    The bond of truth-seeking takes truth to be more important than agreement. Thereby this bond provides a ground for ongoing friendship in spite of disagreement.

    3. Humility. We are fallible creatures. Our reason is imperfect, and our sin/ self-centeredness darkens the intellect and weakens the will. We should remember this.

    But humility, according to George, doesn't mean we should give up on reason and knowledge of truth. Nor should we conform to cultural orthodoxy. Rather, we should acknowledge our limitations and enter into respectful dialogue plus careful, fair-minded, truth-seeking study.

    We should listen to others and learn from others, so those others, if not mistaken, will correct us—i.e., teach us. Humble truth-seekers will welcome this.

    On the other hand, if we are right—which we sometimes are—we shouldn't feel superior. Nor should we shut down our conversations with those who disagree. Rather, we (again) listen. Thereby, says George, our interlocutor teaches us "why reasonable people of good will can disagree."

    As a bonus, if we still have the better reasons after running the gauntlet of criticism, we "now have deeper understanding of truth because we have knowledge that arguments against it fail."

    Knowledge of truth can be held humbly, in other words. And further argument and its accompanying friendship, the bond of truth-seeking, can help us draw nearer to truth and help us flourish socially.

    We live in a world in which many people disagree over much. Let's encourage the development of virtue—intellectual virtue included.

    (Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

    For further reading:

    June 25, 2015

    Freedom vs. Theological Determinism

    By Hendrik van der Breggen
    The Carillon, June 25, 2015

    Freedom vs. Theological Determinism

    Do we have freedom of the will? That is, do we have what philosophers call metaphysical libertarian freedom? Or are our decisions and actions wholly determined by God? My answer: people have metaphysical libertarian freedom (MLF), at least to some significant extent.

    MLF means that I am an intelligent causal agent. On this view, the cause of my action originates with, i.e., is produced and initiated by, me. Whether a particular action occurs is up to me. I have the power to do otherwise. Philosopher Robert P. George characterizes MLF as "the power of an agent to cause what the agent is not caused to cause."

    Why believe MLF is true? Last time I set out four secular arguments. I'll review those arguments briefly. Then I'll set out some theological/ biblical arguments. (Note: I have the Christian idea of God in mind here.)

    First, my intuition (i.e., my raw non-inferential experience in everyday life) is such that I sometimes do in fact initiate an action. I know this. This counts in favour of MLF.

    Second, my experience of deliberation (i.e., goal-oriented contemplation concerning which of two or more future courses of action I should choose) makes good sense on the assumption that doing alternative A and doing alternative B are each within my power to do. This counts in favour of MLF, too.

    Third, making sense of the reality of moral judgment and moral obligation (i.e., that I ought to do X) implies free agency/ MLF.

    Fourth, if MLF is false, then I am a robot (determined) or a mere spasm (undetermined/ random), but I know I am neither.

    Thus, we have four good secular reasons for thinking MLF is true.

    In addition, we also have several good theological/ biblical reasons.

    First, God commands people to obey the moral law. Significantly, obedience presupposes freedom to choose.

    Second, God exhorts people to choose life, and choosing presupposes freedom.

    Third, Scripture exhorts us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, and such grieving (resisting) presupposes freedom.

    Fourth, if God is good (as Scriptures teach), but God wholly determines all choices, then evil is wholly due to God, which means God isn't good—so God's goodness implies human freedom.

    Fifth, Scriptures teach that God is love, that humans are made in God's image, and that we should love God and love each other—but love implies freedom of choice. Without free will we are mere puppets or robots, not beings who can love.

    At this juncture, one might object that the biblical doctrines concerning God's sovereignty, God's foreknowledge, and God's predestination of humans preclude human free will. These are important counter-considerations, and I admit that I don't have a complete answer.

    Nonetheless, the above-outlined pro-MLF biblical evidence coupled with the above-outlined pro-MLF secular arguments continue to point to MLF. Also, the force of the apparently anti-MLF biblical doctrines can be weakened.

    It seems that a sovereign God could allow creatures to have freedom yet retain His sovereignty. If, say, Arnold Swarzenegger allows me to choose to lift weights at his gym, surely my lifting some weights at his gym does not impinge on Arnold's superior strength. Similarly, God allowing me to choose doesn't impinge on God's superiority.

    What about God's foreknowledge? Doesn't God's foreknowing that I will eat pizza tomorrow mean I must eat pizza tomorrow? I think not. Even though God foreknows what I'll eat tomorrow, God's foreknowledge is based on my future choice. (Here I take the view known as "middle knowledge" defended by contemporary philosopher William Lane Craig.)

    I realize that divine sovereignty, foreknowledge, and predestination (which I haven't discussed due to space limitations) are difficult to reconcile with MLF.

    Nevertheless, the secular and biblical evidence that favours MLF remains, and there seems to be a preponderance of such evidence over evidence to the contrary.

    We are made in God's image. Significantly, God calls us to choose (and live in accordance with) life, truth, and goodness.

    (Hendrik van der Breggen teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)