Dinesh D’Souza ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?'

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After a sustained media assault by atheists such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great), Victor Stenger (God: the Failed Hypothesis), Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, and others, it is time that someone defended believers, who have been grossly misrepresented. I bought Dinesh D’Souza’s book ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ and was left confused about what was being defended.  Christian charity? Ecumenical unity? Or is it just a new take on us v them?  

 

AV                        

  _______________________

 

Dear AV

 

Dinesh D’Souza has attempted to respond to many different types of atheists in defence of many different types of Christians. ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ is not limited to a defence of Christianity. It is really a book about religion v atheism.  At times D’Souza expands his definition of ‘religious people’ to include Muslims, Hindus, Jews and other faiths. ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ has to be read for what it is; a partisan argument that religion is good, atheism is bad.  If you are willing to accept D’Souza’s premise, the book has much to offer.

 

‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ begins with the bold assertion that atheism is not winning the hearts and minds of the modern world. In fact religion is on the rise in many parts of the globe.  D’Souza illustrates the reason in a thought experiment. ‘Now imagine two groups of people – let’s call them the secular tribe and the religious tribe -  who subscribe to two worldviews. The religious tribe is made up of people who have an animating sense of purpose. The secular tribe is made up of people who are not sure why they exist at all. Which of the two tribes is more likely to survive, prosper and multiply?’   D’Souza provides examples and statistics from around the world. The fact that many of these rapidly rising populations are Islamic and Hindu supports his underlying argument that all religion is good.

 

After presuming a natural unity among all religions, D’Souza argues that atheists are hopelessly divided into ‘secularists, nonbelievers, non-theists, apatheists, agnostics, sceptics, free thinkers, and humanists’. The main unifying factor among atheists is that they denounce ‘the historical crimes of religion’ and seek to free the world of ignorance and superstition. Their battlefield is the education system. ‘The atheist strategy can be described in this way: let the parents breed (children), and we will educate them to despise their parents’ beliefs.’  D’Souza’s supporting evidence confirms the suspicion of religious people that atheism is not an objective method for studying the universe, but an elaborate conspiracy of disinformation and anti-religion.

 

The most compelling section of ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ reminds readers that science does not have all the answers.  As recently as the 20th century, science ridiculed the notion that the universe had a beginning in time and space. Some scientists fought against the Big Bang theory because it supported the idea of inexplicable, supernatural creation. D’Souza reviews the unlikelihood that an inexplicable explosion could produce a universe that is governed by laws which bring order out of chaos, and shape matter into complex, purposeful combinations. D’Souza points out that an old argument for such an improbable occurrence was that ‘given infinite time and infinite worlds’ anything and everything is possible.  Now that science has determined the universe is finite in time and space these arguments have lost their unlimited power. The solution? An infinite number of universes, of which ours just happens to be a randomly successful variation. The section in which D’Souza reviews unsubstantiated speculation behind the ‘Church of Infinite Worlds’ is a sobering reminder that belief shapes perception.  Even the most rational minds will see (or conceive) what they want to believe.

 

The chapters on Darwinism outline the weakest points of the theory. Natural selection provides no explanation, or even a reasonable theory, for the origin of the universe, the existence of natural laws, life or consciousness. No one can unilaterally proclaim that ‘One of the rules of science is, no miracles are allowed.’  What better word than ‘miracle’ could be used to describe singular events which occur outside the laws of nature and bring into existence new realities?  In the absence of a better scientific theory, ‘miracle’ is not an explanation to be dismissed lightly.

 

A greater problem with natural selection is that it can explain ruthless competition and endless applications of selfishness, but cannot explain altruism. Our selfish genes might sacrifice themselves to protect close kin, but why would they risk their own survival to assist strangers or ‘competitors.’ Science cannot explain why all religions have embraced variations on the Golden Rule.  Why should strangers be kind to others?  Why should we love our neighbours?  Neither natural law nor natural selection can provide an answer.  Many readers will agree with D’Souza that religious faith provides meaning and purpose to their existence. Religion cannot ‘prove’ that we possess immortal souls, that there will be life after death, or that goodness and cruelty will ultimately receive their just rewards, but in the absence of a more compelling belief, religion will continue to influence multitudes of believers.

 

D’Souza documents the contribution of Christianity to the evolving consciousness of human dignity and human rights.  Atheism can defend survival of the fittest and programs of ‘social engineering’ which seek to create superior beings, while culling the herd of the weak and defective; religions governed by the Golden Rule must defend the value and sanctity of each and every individual life. D’Souza dismisses arguments for the moral and ethical superiority of atheism by listing the crimes of 20th century atheist regimes which have murdered countless millions.  ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ provides compelling arguments for a life of faith and establishes the limits of scientific reason.  

 

‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ will convince few atheists of fundamental errors in their reasoning and morality. The target audience for the book is not atheists but Christians who have been left reeling by a barrage of atheist attacks. The preface establishes the purpose of the book: Christians must ‘be contenders for their faith’, ‘be ready to stand up for their beliefs’ because they will ‘face opposition’ but ‘in order to give reasons, you must first know what you believe.’  Later pages (eg 235-236) offer explicit instructions for debating atheists. ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ is a hand book to prepare young Christians to fight the good fight and defend their faith in a hostile, atheistic world.

 

Near the end of the book (p 276) D’Souza drops all pretence of a discussion with atheists and gives young Christians a chilling description of the true nature of the enemy. ‘So one reason (they) attack Christianity so bitterly is precisely to remove its moral influence and make society hospitable for abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.’  ‘My conclusion is that, contrary to popular belief, atheism is not primarily an intellectual revolt; it is a moral revolt.’  ‘This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity.’

 

Young Christians have been warned.  Christianity is the final bastion of morality. Outside the City of God lurk violence, greed, sin and depravity. D’Souza is almost quoting Revelation 22:15. ‘Outside (the New Jerusalem) are the dogs, those who practice the magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.’

D’Souza has staked out the high ground for Christianity, which is also defined in the Book of Revelation (21:27) ‘Nothing impure will ever enter (the New Jerusalem), not will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.’  Is Christianity as great as D’Souza claims? Is it absolutely pure and free of all immorality, violence, idolatry and falsehood?  Unfortunately, no.  This is why the defence that D’Souza provides will leave young Christians ill-equipped to defend their faith.

 

The reader is told that despite horrors committed in the name of Jesus, ‘vastly greater crimes were committed by secular and atheist fanatics’. The Crusades were not a ‘trail of violence that scars the earth and human memory to this day’ but a heroic attempt by 11th century Christians to ‘recover the heartland of Christianity and defend it against militant Islam.’  In addition, atheist historians overemphasize Christian atrocities while ‘about the horrors committed by the Muslim side’ they are ‘notably reticent’.  The Inquisition?  It is a ‘modern stereotype’ that is ‘essentially made up’.  Thousands of people were terrorized but only the relatively small number of ‘between 1,500 and 4,000’ was actually executed for heresy. The European and American witch trials?   D’Souza scoffs at Carl Sagan’s speculation that ‘perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions’ of witches were killed. He prefers the estimate by atheist Sam Harris ‘who has actually done some reading on the subject’ and ‘cites contemporary historical sources that put the number of witches burned much lower, perhaps 100,000.’  This is still a large number but D’Souza compares it to President Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ‘ caused an estimated 100,000 deaths, and the debate continues over President Truman’s decision to end the war in this way.’  The message D’Souza wants his readers to carry away is that bad things happen, war is hell, you have to break eggs to make an omelette, killing 100,000 innocent people is a tough decision, and that debate is to be expected. However, all things considered, ‘vastly greater crimes were committed by secular and atheist fanatics’ and so Christians have no need to apologize to atheists, Muslims or anyone else whose own crimes are far worse.  D’Souza’s comparison of witch killing to war is particularly odious. There is no record of witches perpetrating a kamikaze raid on Rome Harbour or crashing their broomsticks into the Vatican.  The victims were mostly social misfits and senile old women; they were the weak and widowed that Christianity is called to defend, not burn at the stake.

 

There is a term for this kind of argument, it is called moral relativism: our crimes are bad but our enemy’s crimes are worse, therefore we are morally superior. When criticizing atheists, D’Souza is merciless in his attacks on moral relativism. ‘First, morality is universal.’ ‘Indeed I submit that not only is moral belief absolute, but everyone, including self-proclaimed relativists, knows that it is absolute.’  Atheists will instantly recognize the flaws in D’Souza’s own version of moral relativism; so will young Christians.  The historical crimes of Christianity are inexcusable and this line of defence is inadmissible. 

 

The great failure of ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ is D’Souza’s argument that all religion is good and all atheism is bad.  All religion is not good. Islam is currently the most violent and feared religion in the world. For many centuries the title was held by Christianity.  For a brief period in the middle of the 20th century the most blood-thirsty regimes were atheistic. Are all religions and ideologies evil?  They can be. All are individuals evil? They can be. Are humans fundamentally evil?  Traditional Christianity answers ‘yes’.

 

In the 4th century, the Christian Bishop Augustine identified the ultimate source of evil as the fall of man in Eden. He labelled the cause of evil ‘original sin.’ D’Souza provides a perfectly orthodox definition: ‘In the Christian view, human nature is corrupted by original sin. Original sin does not refer only to the sin of Adam and Eve; it also refers to the idea that our natures are, from the start, sinful.’  Later in the book D’Souza calls upon a surprising witness to help substantiate the inherent nature of original sin.  ‘Darwin understood that man is closer to the beasts than to the angels. In some ways man is worse than the animals because they simply do what comes naturally, while man sins wilfully and deliberately.’   D’Souza sums up the consequences of original sin in Augustinian terms.  ‘The Bible equates death in the biological realm with sin in the moral realm.’ The wages of sin are death; ‘sin against God and man’ must be paid for.  ‘This means that sinners cannot enter the Kingdom of God.’

 

Augustine, who defined original sin, believed that Eden was history, rather than allegory.  Adam and Eve were the first created humans who lived and died in 4,000 BC.  Later defenders of original sin and the gospel of wrath such as Luther and Calvin also believed that Adam and Eve were historical characters who lived in 4,000 BC. Historical Christianity believed that sin, death and evil shared the same birthday in 4,000 BC. Many modern Christians continue to believe that all creation took place 6,000 years ago and that no dinosaurs (or any other creatures) died before the rebellion of Adam and Eve. 

 

Where does D’Souza stand?  ‘It is important here to clear up a common misunderstanding. Many secular writers seem to think that the orthodox Christian position is that the universe and the earth were literally made in six calendar days’.  ‘Most traditional Christians have no problem with a creation account that extends over millions, even billions, of years.’ Later on in the book D’Souza admits that ‘Creationists come in different shapes and sizes. Most are biblical literalists who uphold without qualification the biblical claim that God created the earth and all living things in six days. A quite distinct creationist belief – not always shared by those in the first group – is that the earth is only six thousand years old.’  According to a 2008 Gallup survey 44% of Americans believe that ‘God created human beings pretty much in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so.’  D’Souza clearly states his own position. ‘I respect the dedication and moral fervour of the creationists, although I do not agree with either their reading of scripture or the scientific evidence.’ So great is D’Souza’s faith in the basic tenets of modern science that he states, ‘I  am highly confident there are many cultures in the world, even today, that would emphatically reject Darwin’s  theory of evolution and Einstein’s theory of relativity. None of this would show that scientific laws are relative, only that people who reject them happen to be wrong.’ For all his claims to be a middle-of-the-road traditionalist, D’Souza’s views on creationism and Darwinism are highly unorthodox.  

 

Another ‘traditional’ belief associated with original sin is that all humans are born evil and depraved, that without salvation they were doomed to eternal damnation. Augustine was so rigorous about the curse of original sin that unbaptized babies were ’excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life’.  Luther and Calvin were equally certain about the total depravity inherent in original sin. The corollary of Calvinist Total Depravity is that the human will is in absolute bondage to sin; the only function of freewill is to commit sin, and the only hope of salvation is an unmerited gift of grave for the elect few who were predestined to be filled with Irresistible Grace.

 

Here, too, D’Souza takes a decidedly untraditional position, denouncing atheists and materialists who deny freewill and asserting that ‘Perhaps the strongest argument against materialism is the argument from free will.’ Materialism can describe universe laws that govern that dimensions of time and space, but is oblivious to a third dimension of moral freedom.  ‘To some, it may seem fantastic that all nature should obey fixed laws, but that a single type of animal – hairy, omnivorous, and bipedal – should be able to act in violation of these laws. But there is, and we are that animal.’

 

D’Souza has articulated a form of Christianity which is light years from the ‘traditional’ theology of original sin. He has traced a frontier between that Gospel of Wrath, which is responsible for the atrocities committed in the name of religion, and the Gospel of Love, which he articulates passionately on the final page of ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’. ‘Ultimately we are called not only to happiness and goodness but also to holiness. Holiness does not mean merely performing the obligatory rituals on the outside; it means staying pure on the inside. Yet holiness is not something we do for God. It is something we do with God. We couldn’t do it without him. In order for us to be more like Christ, we need Christ within us.’

 

D’Souza demonstrates the schizophrenic messaging of modern Christianity.  A vision of holiness, freedom and personal responsibility is remerging while we have not fully shaken off the tradition original sin legacy of condemnation, predestination and limited election.

 

At the beginning of his book, D’Souza provides young Christians with the worst possible method for influencing non-believers. ‘Death forces upon you a choice that you cannot escape. You must choose God or reject him, because when you die all abstentions are counted as ‘no’ votes.’  There is no freedom in this choice or even morality. This ‘take-it-or-regret-it’ offer provides no explanation for God’s wrath (And which God is he talking about? Does faith in any God count as a ‘yes’ vote?). Ambiguous threats and historical defence of moral relativism are guaranteed to leave non-believers indifferent or hostile to the ‘stern fellow with the long beard’.

 

At the end of his book, D’Souza provides a compelling vision of faith that is free to choose goodness, holiness and compassion. Before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and acquired the political power to force conversions, it made converts by example.  The Early Church offered the power of forgiveness, healing and unity. If young Christians choose to live their faith in goodness, holiness and compassion they can become a source of light that this gloomy world desperately needs, and they will illustrate by example what’s so great about Christianity.

 

 

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Key words: Dinesh D’Souza, Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great), Victor Stenger (God: the Failed Hypothesis), Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer.