Tag Archives: human evolution

An Atheist Discovers Sinful Human Nature

In a recent article in the Guardian, Ijeoma Oluo wrote on behalf of her fellow atheists that, “our belief that we are right while everyone else is wrong; our belief that our atheism is more moral; our belief that others are lost: none of it is original. Perhaps this is not religion, but human nature.” Later in the article, she referred to the “atrocities we commit as human beings,” and pointed out that atheists and people of faith are alike in the need to “free ourselves from the racist, sexist, classist, homophobic tendencies of society.”

Ms. Oluo has discovered sinful human nature. It is the most fundamental truth about human beings. She looks around, examines the behavior and attitudes of atheists, people not corrupted by believing that some god actually exists and cares about them, and she observes, “Look through new atheist websites and twitter feeds. You’ll see the same hatred and bigotry that theists have been spouting against other theists for millennia.” Her conclusion that belief in a god (theism) necessarily produces hateful, venomous rhetoric may be questionable, but there is no question that human beings, both theists and atheists, are born with sinful human nature.

The word sin is anathema in contemporary cultural conversations, or in any other context, for that matter. There is widespread cultural scorn for the Christian teaching that everyone is a sinner. Film critics love a film that makes fun of Christian abhorrence of sin. Hardened atheists tell stories of how the hypocrisy of church members drove them out of the church their parents forced them to attend as children Social workers accuse parents of child abuse for telling their children that they are born sinful. Yet Ijeoma Oluo has discovered the fact that being an atheist does not keep that person from a congenital propensity for greed, selfishness and hatred.

Ms. Oluo is fully convinced that her discovery is a truth hidden from others. Whenever we human beings discover truth, it feels so good and seems so unlike the world around us that we are sure we have found something others have missed. I applaud her intellectual honesty, but Ms. Oluo needs to recognize that this truth about human beings has been known for thousands of years. Jeremiah, who lived about 2500 years ago, said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

Atheists often reject the Bible as a source of truth, because they reject the whole notion of any spirit realm. Some atheists do recognize biblical truth in an abstract way and set the Bible on a level equal with the Tao Te Ching or a Hindu Veda. Perhaps Ijeoma Oluo could accept Jeremiah’s statement as truth if she could see it presented in parallel with her own observation. Yet Ms. Oluo still needs to see this truth in the revelation of God’s whole truth. Unfortunately, the isolated observation that human beings are inherently evil could drive anyone, including Ms. Oluo, to utter despair. If everyone is bad and nobody is good, where do we find any hope for the human race?

Christians answer that concern by first accepting the truth about human beings and then pointing to the answer: the risen Christ. The truth about humans is well documented in an ancient letter to Roman Christians written by the apostle Paul. He said, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). Fortunately, Paul’s statement does not really end that way, mired in the fall. It continues seamless to the solution–“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Christians know the solution; people are sinful, and they need to be redeemed. Paul wrote the coherent explanation, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).

Ijeoma Oluo believes that human beings need to do something to fix the broken elements of human nature that result in evil behavior. In her view, if people start thinking more about themselves, they can evolve into better human beings by willful choice, and she suggests some choices for people—things like service to others and kindness to all. While Ms. Oluo recognizes the universality of sinful human nature, she does not recognize the futility of any attempt to improve on human beings by an act of will. That particular fallacy was revealed as an utter failure during the same era in which the apostle Paul lived. In fact, the apostle Paul subscribed to that theory himself before he became a Christian. He writes about his own experience at length in the book of Romans, saying,

Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin [or sinful human nature] that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? –Romans 7:16-24

Paul could see the good things he ought to do, and he could want to do the good things he ought to do, but he was fundamentally incapable of doing every one of those things every time he needed to do it.

The hypothesis that human beings can improve themselves by simply practicing good moral behavior was the entire underlying thesis of Pharisaism. The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism in the first century AD, and they believed that a person could become perfect if he could obey a set of more than 600 individual laws. The fact that Pharisees took their laws from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures does not invalidate a comparison between Pharisaism and Ijeoma Oluo’s suggestion. God himself was actually no more real to them than he is to Ijeoma Oluo, and Jesus pointed out that fact more than once. One day during a teaching moment on the subject of prayer, Jesus compared the prayers of a Pharisee and a tax collector:

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:10-13)

Jesus praised the tax collector, because the tax collector prayed to God, but Jesus said that God would not even hear the Pharisee’s prayer, because he was praying to himself. Read the Pharisee’s prayer closely, and you will see that he believes he is perfect. He believes he has done every possible good deed, and he believes that he never does anything bad. He is not praying to God; he is telling God that he does not need God. The Pharisee may not have chosen the good deeds Ms. Oluo proposes, but the Pharisee and Ms. Oluo both believe that human beings can perfect themselves.

The whole Bible is evidence that human beings cannot perfect themselves. They are born with sinful human nature, just as Ijeoma Oluo says, but the message of the Bible is that no human being can perfect himself and overcome sinful human nature by simply deciding to do so. Every human who tries it will quickly discover that it is impossible. Promise yourself that, like the Pharisee, you will fast twice a week, and then see how quickly your mind excuses a bite of someone else’s donut—just one bite!

Ijeoma Oluo is a brilliant writer, much to be admired for her skill. She is a deep thinker, willing to face hard truth. Ms. Oluo is admirable in every way, and God loves her very much. He is pleased that she uses his gift of intelligence with such power. There is just one thing she needs to do. Ijeoma Oluo needs to do the same thing Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do: she needs to stop being her own God. Ms. Oluo needs to understand that Jesus Christ died precisely because of her sinful human nature, and she needs to accept his forgiveness. She must recognize that the power that raised Christ from the dead is powerful enough to save her from the evil that is sinful human nature. Then she will discover exactly what she is looking for—the redemption of human beings.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the winter of 2016.

Advertisements

Fewer People Claiming to be Christian Might be a Good Thing

Statististics show that it is not as popular to be a Christian in the US as it used to be

Numerous groups study US demographics. The studies do not probe the convictions of the people interviewed. Instead, they rely on the self-identification by individuals interviewed. The precise numbers reported vary slightly from study to study, but overall, it is clear that fewer people self-identify as Christian today than in 1990. The American Religious Identification Survey in 1990 reported that about 86% of American adults self-identified as Christian, but by 2008, that proportion had fallen to 76%. Other studies report that increasing numbers of American adults claim no religious connection at all.

Christians in general have deplored the drop in numbers of Christians in the population. They likewise complain of the erosion of Christian values in the culture or of real aggression against Christians. Courts are full of cases that involve various aspects of the cultural conflicts that demonstrate that US culture no longer considers Christian values and practices to be the norm for the country. In fact, despite ample evidence that the population of the original thirteen colonies was predominantly Christian, it is not uncommon for contemporary American citizens to say that this nation was never a Christian nation. The younger the demographic, the more likely it is that American adults will claim no connection with religion in any form.

Christians who hold a Christian worldview should rejoice that the word Christian is coming to mean a distinctive worldview

In a 2009 report, the Barna Group defined a Christian worldview:

For the purposes of the survey, a “biblical worldview” was defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today. In the research, anyone who held all of those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview.

The surveys of American Christians from which this report was drawn revealed that only 9% of Americans hold the worldview described above. This statistic correlates closely with statistics that show marked declines in the number of people who regard the Bible as sacred or as a source of useful guidance for daily life.

Nevertheless, if people used to say they were Christian out of habit or fear of the culture rather than out of faith, then maybe the declining numbers mean something good. Maybe the change in the statistics actually means that people do not want to self-identify as Christians if they really do not choose to live by Christian teaching.

In an article in Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer points to four positive trends for Christians that make the statistics sound a lot less bleak:

  1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear
  2. The Nominals will increasingly become Nones
  3. Christians will increasingly change cultural tactics
  4. More robust churches will result from nominalism

When these points are probed, Christians who live in relationship with Christ and accept Christ’s call to a life of discipleship should anticipate that it may not be more comfortable to share Christ in the future, but it will almost certainly be easier to communicate the truth than it is when people believe that being a church member is equivalent to being Christian.

When people confuse church membership with being a Christian, it is harder to share Christ

Many Christians have discerned that friends needed Christ only to hear, “I’m already a church member,” when they bring up the subject. As long as people believe that church membership is Christianity, it is very hard to talk with them about a relationship with Christ. They already believe that they have their world in order. Many people hold the view that God will reward them for being faithful in church attendance as long as they say they are sorry for telling lies and gossiping. They have so thoroughly trivialized the meaning of being a Christian that it is a daunting task to make the gospel even comprehensible. Many American Christians have no more idea what Christianity is than the Pharisees had, for the same reason: they think it is about keeping the rules and obeying the church hierarchy.

It will be easier to confront someone with the truth about Christ if that person happily identifies as not Christian

For most of the history of the USA, it has been comfortable and culturally desirable to be a Christian. People who say that their religion is Christianity, even though they do not know Christ at all, are comfortable just the way they are. They have no interest in being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. They do not want to be bothered by their religion. They claim to be Christian the same way they claim membership in a gym or a country club, a membership that can make no uncomfortable claims on them, even if they do suffer pangs now and then over missing church, failing to work out regularly or not doing their part for the country club’s annual charity drive.

Today, the culture is smirkingly scornful of Christians. Their faith is seen in some circles as childish behavior, equivalent to clinging to an old teddy bear. In other circles, Christianity is aggressively targeted for having “imposed” its “rules” on people who want nothing to do with it. More and more, it is unpopular to claim to be a Christian. The popular choices are either to have no religion, or to be spiritual but not religious. In this context, many people who used to claim to be Christian are now abandoning that claim. Some Christian leaders speak of the change as “falling away,” but the truth is that the people who now assert their disconnect with religion seldom had any faith to “fall away” from. They simply got tired of the pretense. The people who leave frequently open blogs where they regularly rip away at their own pasts, openly declaring that they never believed in any part of their past “Christian” lives.

Christians always should applaud the truth, even the ugly truths. It is better for everyone when people do not claim to be Christian when they do not know Christ.

It is not a benefit for a church to be filled with “members” who have no relationship with Christ

Church leaders and grassroots members alike feel sad when membership numbers decline, but they should actually rejoice when people who have no faith in Christ stop claiming to be Christians or to be church members. Church members, and especially church leaders, who have no faith in Christ can lead churches in very bad directions. For example, church leaders who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired revelation of God, given by him for guidance in faith in life, have promulgated numerous heretical changes in churches across the USA.

In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America declared, ““The scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today.”In plain language, the ELCA stated that humans had outgrown the Bible. They had evolved to a place where they knew things God forgot to address in his revelation of himself. When any person who claims to be Christian feels that the Bible is an ancient, obsolete book about “the sacred” and not God’s guide for faith and life, then that person simply does not need to be a member of a Christian church. It is not a good thing for a church to have members that feel this way. The departure of “members” who feel no relationship with Christ and find no value in the Bible is no loss to the church.

It is good for the Kingdom of God when people who are outside that kingdom know and acknowledge that they are outside.

When Jesus was talking with Nicodemus, a Pharisee, he explained why he had come into the world. Jesus said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17 ESV) Jesus came to live in time and space because he loved people. After his death and resurrection, as he ascended to heaven, he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV) Jesus wanted everyone who followed him to do what he had done. Christians are not saved in order to increase the membership in churches. They are not saved in order to give bigger offerings. They are not even saved in order to send food to Haiti or drill wells in Rwanda.

Christians are saved in order to love people as much as Christ did. They are called to share Christ with everyone they meet. The ultimate shape of each person’s calling is unique, so some do feed the hungry and some do drill wells. Some teach Bible schools and some treat lepers. However, no matter what they do, they are not doing it in order to fulfill any social obligation or to enhance the image of any church. Christians do what they do for the love of Christ and for the love of the people Christ died to save. It is not good for people who do not know Christ to think that church membership is a substitute for knowing Christ. It is not good for people to believe that they can outgrow God and simultaneously be part of his kingdom. People who believe that they are already part of the kingdom do not respond eagerly when Christians proclaim as Christ did, “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 ESV)

If learning to be more Christ-like is important to you, visit the new blog “Love God and Others” launching today.