Is Religion the Cause of Violence?

Is religion behind all the violence in the world? Is the cause of all fighting somehow rooted in religious beliefs? Some say it is.

For example, God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected that of Cain. “This,” the Bible says, “made Cain very angry” (Genesis 4:5). Later Cain killed Abel. The first act of violence among humans that the Bible records was rooted in a religious issue. Many more acts of violence have followed throughout human history that are directly or indirectly related to religion.

Author and professor J. Harold Ellens’ 2007 book The Destructive Power of Religion points to religion as the cause of violence in the world. The following web post introduces the book:

Whether they fly airplanes into the World Trade Center or Pentagon, blow up ships, ports, and federal buildings, kill doctors and nurses at abortion clinics, exterminate contemporary Palestinians, or kill Israeli soldiers with suicide bombs, destructive religionists are all shaped by the same unconscious apocalyptic metaphors, and by the divine example and imperative to violence.

Is God Violent?

Anyone reading the Old Testament will acknowledge that it describes
  a people who endure great tragedy and triumph, which includes
     many acts of violence. There are stories of treachery, terrorism, rape, murder, war, slaughter of the innocent, torture, enslavement, and mass killings. While the Bible documents this violent behavior, we can’t assume God always approves. But the question is, is he violent? Does he engage in violent acts?

 

Why Does God Commit Violence?

 

The short answer is yes. But unless we have a context for God’s violence, we risk misunderstanding his nature. He is merciful and loving (Psalm 103:8). He is holy and righteous (Psalm 145:17 and Revelation 3:7). He is also fair and just. “O Lord, you are righteous, and your decisions are fair. Your decrees are perfect; they are entirely worthy of our trust” (Psalm 119:137-138). “He is the Rock,” Scripture states, “his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
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What Does Christianity Say About the Nature of Humans?

After speaking at a church recently, I was approached by a woman who identified herself as a defense attorney and a Christian. She told me she struggled to understand how some of the suspects I’d arrested for cold-case murders had been able to live law-abiding, uneventful lives for thirty years (or more) following their crimes. She seemed to believe these men and women should not have been unable to live amongst the rest of us without giving themselves away. Her surprise is common amongst those who live and work with killers. When I eventually take a murderer to jail years after he or she committed the crime, their friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers typically express disbelief: “There’s no way Jack could have committed that murder, I’ve known him for twenty years. He’s the sweetest man I’ve ever known!” When a suspect is finally convicted of the crime (and eventually confesses to the murder), those who knew him or her are typically shocked. They shouldn’t be. My cold case murderers were not serial killers. They simply committed one horrific crime and then spent the rest of their life living just like you and me. Nothing in their demeanor ever gave away the fact they were capable of such a thing. They looked like the rest of us. Why? Because they are just like the rest of us; capable of greatness, but fallen to their core.

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Three Simple Rules for Apologetics Multimedia Presentations

I’m getting ready for the 2014 CrossExamined Instructor’s Academy (CIA) from August 14th to 16th in 3th in Mathews, North Carolina. This will be my second year as part of the faculty and Frank Turek is graciously trusting me to lead a session on “Tent-Making Christian Case Making”. My goal is to collaborate with other Christian Case Makers so we can become the best “One Dollar Apologists” we can be. Part of my session will focus on important strategies to increase our cultural impact, while another section will focus on making better visual presentations. If you haven’t yet signed up for CIA, don’t delay. The admission process closes on July 1st, and this experience is far more than simply classroom teaching; it’s three days of saturation training in which each and every participant becomes part of the larger case making community. Today, I’d like to preview part of what I plan to teach related to apologetics multimedia presentations:

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Why Would Anyone Get a Degree In Apologetics?

I feel honored to be a very small part of the faculty at Biola University (where I serve as an Adjunct Professor in the Master’s Degree program in Christian Apologetics). Two weeks ago I taught a class covering the material in Cold-Case Christianity and began by asking the seventy-four students in my class why they wanted an advance degree in apologetics. Thirty of these students said they were taking the class to grow in their faith. The remaining forty-four said they were either teaching apologetics locally or planned on teaching apologetics in the future. This latter group saw the Biola graduate degree as an important step of preparation. Not everyone agrees.

In fact, some people in the Christian community think an advanced degree in apologetics is largely a waste of time. Two people I deeply admire have come out publicly with this assertion: Max Andrews (of the Sententias Blog) and Glenn Peoples (of the Right Reason Blog) both wrote blog posts this year entitled, “Don’t Get a Degree in Apologetics”. Andrews and Peoples believe an academic degree in an advanced, specific discipline (i.e. biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, chemistry, etc.) is a far better choice than a broad degree in apologetics. Andrews writes:

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Ten Insights About Millennials

Last week I had the chance to speak alongside David Kinnaman to the Biola University Staff about reaching Millennials. Along with the fact that I have been working with Millennials for the past decade, I did a ton of research to understand this generation. Here are ten key insights about Millennials, typically defined as those born after 1980 (although these trends apply most pointedly to younger Millennials). Please keep in mind that these are generational trends, and certainly not true of every Millennial.

Millennials are very quickly moving into positions of influence and leadership in our culture, so we better be prepared!

1.      DIGITAL: Teens 12-17 send an average 167 texts per day, 18-24 year-olds send 110, and 25-34 year-olds send 42.[1] 83% of Millennials say they sleep with their smartphones.[2] 

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Test Your Eyewitnesses, Even When the Eyewitness Is You

As a detective, I’m a distrustful person. I learned to be skeptical the hard way; I was fooled several times in my early career by convincing liars (both suspects and alleged eyewitnesses). As a result, I’ve learned the importance of testing eyewitnesses, even when they offer testimony favorable to my case. I’d much rather discover a lie early, than discover it in front of a jury under cross-examination. I’ve learned to evaluate witnesses with the four part template I developed from the jury instructions offered in criminal trials. If a witness was truly present, can be corroborated by additional evidence, has been consistent and honest over time, and lacks prejudicial bias, he or she can be trusted.

I must confess my skepticism also colors the way I see claims of religious experience. Many believers offer the personal testimony of experience. When they do this, they present themselves as eyewitnesses, and I’ve learned to be skeptical of their testimony. I have six brothers and sisters who were raised in Mormonism. Like other Latter Day Saints, when asked why they believe Mormonism is true, they offer personal testimony of religious experiences that served as confirmation of the Book of Mormon and the claims of Joseph Smith. This religious experience (whether it is described as a “burning in the bosom” or in more contemporary language) is seen as sufficient evidence Mormonism is true. But when Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are evaluated under the simple template I use to assess eyewitness reliability, they fail to withstand the scrutiny. In fact, Mormonism is demonstrably false.

Given my experience with Mormon believers, I’ve become skeptical of Christians who cite religious experience as the only evidence they can offer when defending the claims of Christianity. I’m not saying I don’t trust religious experience at all; I simply saying all religious experience must be tested:

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Did God Appear in Bodily Form Before Jesus?

The Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building (Genesis 11:5).

 

>How could God “come down” to the earth prior to him taking on human form in the person of Jesus?

 

Explanation: Prior to the incarnation—God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus—he did in fact make his presence known. Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8 niv). God appeared to Abraham (Genesis 17:1 and Genesis 18:1), Jacob (Genesis 32:1), and Moses (Exodus 3:2).

 

These appearances or manifestations of God are called theophanies. It is when God makes himself tangible to the human senses, as when Job was able to hear God in the wind (   Job 38:1), or when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. But in a more restrictive sense God has “come down” and made himself visible in the form of a man, like he did with Abraham and Jacob. Some scholars believe certain appearances of God were the pre-incarnate Christ. Other possible pre-incarnate appearances include the meeting between Joshua and the “Commander of the Lord’s army” (   Joshua 5:13-15) and the fourth man “like a son of the gods” who was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:23-25). But in any case God did make appearances in tangible form prior to the appearance of the God-man Jesus.
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The True Christian Myth

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.

C. S. Lewis

Everybody loves a hero. Whether it’s a real life ordinary person who does something heroic in a moment of crisis, or a comic book superhero who saves the world from bad guys, we just love a good hero and a great heroic story. To say Jesus was a hero might seem inappropriate or even sacrilegious because Jesus wasn’t ordinary and he certainly didn’t fly around in a cape. But if you give it some thought, it isn’t all that far-fetched, especially when you consider the classic definition of a hero: “A being of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity.”

The idea of the classic hero has been a part of human lore, legend and literature for thousands of years. The Greek poet Homer wrote two epic poems, Illiad and Odyssey, that defined the heroic tradition in literature eight centuries before Jesus was born. Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s story, goes on a long journey following the fall of Troy in order to get home. But he doesn’t get there until he experiences a series of adventures. One of the most popular books and movies of the last century, The Wizard of Oz, is based on this heroic tradition.

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