Only the Christian Worldview Can Consistently Argue that Lives Matter

It’s strange isn’t it? The same people that teach children in school that they are nothing more than the products of blind time and chance reverse course and speak of dignity, rights, and justice when it’s convenient. 

The materialist view that is foisted upon us at every turn—in popular culture, in education, and in jurisprudence—is conveniently set aside when a sufficiently concerning social ill needs to be addressed. This is not to criticize those who reject God and fight for justice, but rather to point out that their sensitivities are rather arbitrary.

It is nothing short of negligent inconsistency at best and intellectual dishonesty at worst.

The atheistic, materialistic view of human beings has no grounds for talking about dehumanization or dignity, justice or injustice. Why? Because of its views on both man and all metaphysical values, such as morality and ethics. Look at its leading spokesmen.

Bertrand Russell, a giant in atheistic philosophy in the early 20th century reminds us of the implications of a world without God: “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” (A Free Man’s Worship)

Think about that. In a materialistic world there is no design or purpose and all beliefs are accidents of nature. All noble efforts and genius will be snuffed out. Only when we embrace despair can we live. 

Richard Dawkins gives us no more hope. “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (River out of Eden)

Physicist Sean Carroll: “We humans are blobs are organized mud, which through the impersonal workings of nature’s patterns have developed the capacity to contemplate and cherish and engage with the intimidating complexity of the world around us…The meaning we find in life is not transcendent.” (The Big Picture)

Genomist Tomàs Marquès-Bonet: “Natural selection will always be there, with greater or less force…Selection is a blind process in which mutations are generated and those individuals that are most adapted are the ones that most disseminate their mutations…No matter how clever we are, humans will disappear. We are just a minor accident in the great evolutionary scale of the Earth.”

Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of DNA: “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll might have phrased it, ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons’.” (The Astonishing Hypothesis)

And finally, an anonymous Facebook post informs human beings, “You’re a ghost driving a meat coated skeleton made from stardust.”

This is the message of the Western, “scientific” mind. I won’t take the time to explore the Eastern mindset here but suffice it to say that in most of its expressions the body is a prison and the goal is to escape the body, which is essentially evil. Therefore the body is inconsequential. Everything is part of the divine, including evil, racists, and injustice, so how do we condemn what is divine on any more of a basis than that we don’t prefer those things? The Eastern mindset has no more rational basis for promoting dignity and justice than does the West.

For anyone arguing for justice in this present time of national agony over race, taking a Western view undermines any rational basis. How can lives matter if we are accidents of nature, mudballs, the sum total of our DNA, an assembly of nerve cells and molecules, and meat skeletons? A bigger question is, “Why care?” If all these things are true, why not go with the flow of natural selection and practice cruelty and aggression instead of empathy and kindness? The former are working out quite well for many people all around the world, as they always have.

Only the Christian third way with its belief in the inherent dignity of man and woman made in the image of God provides a consistent basis for saying that any life matters. At the same time, it acknowledges that we live in a world under the curse of sin and manifesting brokenness in a trillion different ways. Only the Christian worldview sees man as possessing both dignity and depravity in a way that explains the world the way it is. 

Some may object, “What about the failure of the Church and Christians to live up to this standard of dignity and to defend and protect it for all people?” Sadly, that is a legitimate observation. But it poses no real objection against Christianity because it represents a clear violation of the teachings of Jesus. To be cruel and aggressive and to prefer my own kind is the heart and soul of natural selection. When it is done in the name of Christ it is clearly a departure. Christians who practice injustice and fail to care about such heinous sins as racism betray their name. And even the best intentions and efforts of Christians will fall short because we are never promised perfection in this life. The problem is so great in our world that only a Messiah can fix it. And he will.

Only Christianity has the God-man entering our existence and showing us what perfect obedience to God’s law looks like, then dying for our failure to live as we should. Jesus offers us forgiveness and redemption through his perfect sacrifice. The Holy Spirit transforms us progressively throughout life by means of the Word of God to make us more like Christ. Part of that is to develop the heart of the heavenly Father, to grieve what He grieves, to hate what He hates, and to love what He loves.

Christians and the Church at large will never be perfect in promoting justice and righteousness in the many, many issues that we encounter in this life, but at least we have a consistent basis, a perfect example, and an empowerment from on high.

So, the questions is, “Are we doing what we can to promote real justice in our world?”

If I am Guilty for Who I Am, the Gospel Is of No Benefit

This post is not going to go the way you think it will, so please read to the end.

If I am guilty of something merely because I am white, there is no redemption for me. I cannot stop being white. 

White Guilt

Now, I know that those who use the phrase “white guilt” often mean not just (or not primarily) the color of my skin, but the privilege that goes with it (something to be addressed in a future post). But the heart of white guilt is the idea that if I am white, then I must have sinned in some way connected to my skin color, most likely (say some) in a racist way against a black person. And while technically my guilt arises out of privilege, many people are getting the less nuanced message that it arises out if skin color.

This fits well the narrative promoted by those who subscribe to Critical Race Theory and intersectionality (also to be addressed in a future post). It does not, however, fit the Christian narrative. I will say this many times over subsequent posts: This present national crisis is going to reveal how many professing Christians have either drifted into a Marxist worldview on the left or Individualistic worldview on the right. And it should challenge us to seek out a distinctly Christian worldview as a third way between the other two.

An article in the New York Times asks, “How Can I Cure My White Guilt?” The authors seek to answer an inquirer who writes:

I’m riddled with shame. White shame. This isn’t helpful to me or to anyone, especially people of color. I feel like there is no “me” outside of my white/upper middle class/cisgender identity. I feel like my literal existence hurts people, like I’m always taking up space that should belong to someone else…I’m curled up in a ball of shame.

Their answer to this tormented soul? “Every white person should be ashamed of that injustice [the privilege whiteness afforded]. Which is different than being ashamed of being white.” The solutions given are various works of penance: becoming an ally, expressing anguish, relinquishing privilege. In other words, law.

This is what we might call ontological guilt, culpability and shame for your very nature. It is distinctly not a Christian view of guilt. God declared his creation of man and woman to be ‘very good’ because they were made in his image. The image of God is what gives us our inherent dignity. Ontological guilt, then, is not Christian. There is no redemption for ontological guilt. There is no good news.

Biblical Guilt

In the Bible guilt is always connected to thoughts, words, or actions. This is what we call moral guilt. I am guilty when I do something I should not do or fail to do something I should do. Guilt is primarily in relation to God, and only secondarily in relation to others (Psa. 51:4). I become guilty when I break God’s law or erect idols in my heart. The gospel is the good news that because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. By repentance my moral transgressions can be forgiven, and I can be made clean.

So, if I am not guilty because of my whiteness, am I still automatically guilty of racism because I am white? Automatically? No, but I should not dismiss the notion that I have committed an act or thought of racism just because none comes to mind in a quick review of my sins. David asked God to search his heart to see if there was any wickedness in him (Psa. 139:23-4) because sins can remain hidden (Psa. 19:12). 

Perhaps every white Christian should ask God to search his heart for hidden preference, favor, hatred, or injustice toward people based on ethnic differences. So should every black, Asian, Latino, and other believer regardless of his ethnicity. We should also do this based on economic status (James 2:1-13), class, education, or any other difference. No discrimination is acceptable to God. He hates unjust treatment of others (Prov. 20:23). We should ask ourselves hard questions like:

Am I friendlier to people of certain ethnicities than to others when I encounter them?

Am I more willing to help people of certain ethnicities than others?

Do I care about the injustices experienced by people of certain ethnicities more than others?

Do I pray for and work to minister to people in need regardless of their ethnicity?

Do I care about the well-being of people of other ethnicities as much as I do those who look like me?

These are just a few of the many questions we can ask God to search our hearts. We may find after doing this that God reveals some prejudices. If so, we should experience shame and grief for our sin that leads us to repentance. And if we have sinned against another person as a result of these heart attitudes we should seek out their forgiveness.

Black Guilt

It would be awful to be guilty simply because of my skin color. It would be anguish to know that there is nothing I could do to escape condemnation simply for who I am and not for anything I have done. 

This is exactly the position in which many black people find themselves. It is hard for me to understand that until I listen to their stories. Because many white people are insulated from close relationships with black people they may not be aware of this. I presently live in the whitest place I have ever lived. I have never known what it is like to be pulled over by a policeman for no apparent reason. I don’t know what it is like to be called names for my melanin. I have never been afraid to walk through a nice neighborhood because I am white. 

A black friend from the West Coast told me yesterday that he was harassed for his ethnicity this week. One of his sons is a mechanical engineer in his 20’s and has been pulled over a dozen times in the last year on his way home from work. Many other compelling and heartbreaking stories have been told. Are we listening?

I am well aware as a theologian that the root problem is sin in the heart. You cannot legislate or educate hatred out of the heart. Most African American spokespeople do not assume we can. This raises the issue to be addressed later of what can be done, not just in human hearts, but in police training, the justice system, and other realms.

But before we go there, I ask myself and my white friends, are we willing to listen to the stories of those who have been harassed and mistreated merely for who they are? Will we weep with those who weep and resist evil when we see it?

Here’s who I am presently listening to: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/george-floyd-and-me/

Next: Human dignity and equality are only consistent in a Christian worldview.

I invite comments, corrections, suggestions, and questions.

Discerning between Injustice and Ideology: The Christian Third Way

The last few weeks have been a time of national agony. Agony for all who saw the video of the last eight minutes of George Floyd’s life and found themselves short of breath in sympathetic response. Agony for African Americans in seeing another brother needlessly killed. Agony for whites who have been told they bear guilt for being who they are. I have heard all three expressed.

The challenge of this national agony is that ideological groups are parasitically attaching themselves to a genuine act of injustice. This partially explains the angst that many feel about the situation. Protests were overshadowed by rioting in the first week after the incident. Genuine efforts at righting injustice were hijacked by Antifa and other radical organizations pushing a more sinister agenda. Constructive attempts to change problematic structures and institutions were drowned out by unrealistic and extreme solutions more fit for a full-scale revolution.

Left and Right are quickly drawing up lines and digging in. For Christians, however, this ought to be a time where a distinctly Christian third way is proclaimed. We dare not fall into uncritical acceptance of political or ideological answers from either side. 

As theologian Denny Burk states so well,

The error from the right will be a refusal to acknowledge any racial disparities in encounters with police and how those disparities shape a community’s despairing attitudes toward law enforcement. If we aren’t guarding ourselves from errors on the right, we might gaslight some of our brothers and sisters and not be able to commiserate with them like the Bible commands, “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). They will not feel like we are hearing them, which will in turn lead to alienation from them. It will also keep us blind to injustices that the Bible says we ought to expose: “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:11).

The error from the left includes ideologies like Critical Race Theory and intersectionality that are at odds with the gospel and that frame many people’s thinking about these events. These ideologies reflect materialistic worldviews that view all of life through the prism of racial identity and power relations. They tend to produce blanket condemnations of law enforcement that are not fair to the vast majority of officers that are serving our communities well and that abhor police misconduct as much as we do. Some people use such ideologies to justify the rioting and looting that have undermined the aims of peaceful protestors around the country.

In the coming days I hope to untangle the issue of injustice from the barnacle-like parasites that have attached themselves to this critical issue and present a Christian third way that gleans the wisdom from left and right while avoiding their errors. 

Next up tomorrow: If I Am Guilty for Who I Am, the Gospel Is of No Benefit.