HOME   People do good because they are human, not because they are religious! 

Do not give God any credit for the good they do, they did it!

 

EXAMINATION OF ALISTER MCGRATH - HIS BOOK, MERE THEOLOGY (SPCK, London, 2010)
 
Alister Mc Grath is a popular Christian writer in the vein of C S Lewis. He writes in defence of the faith.  He is heavily overrated as the following quote shows where he claims that truth does not matter.  "Hopelessly overstated arguments that once seemed so persuasive - such as 'science disproves God' - have lost their credibility. Anyway, our culture's criterion of acceptability is not 'Is it right?' but 'Does it work?' And the simple fact is that religious belief works for many, many people, giving direction, purpose and stability to their lives ...".  It works for some not many.  And are we to invent all the religions we want to as long is they work?  People think a lot of things work when they don't.  Think of the terrible things they do with their vote!  Mc Grath plainly does not care that once truth is demoted justice soon ends up in trouble.

 

This is an examination of his book, Mere Theology.
 
Page 5 says that as the word of God in the Bible commands us to love God with all our minds we are being asked to think about God. McGrath says that loving God and wanting to understand him better go together. McGrath also says that we cannot let Christ - and by implication God - rule over our hearts unless we let him guide us in our thinking. He says the command shows that Christianity is not against the use of the intellect and not against free inquiry to check the religion out for veracity and correctness.
 
The point of the commandment is that we are to let God do the thinking for us. It says nothing about thinking for ourselves. Indeed, in those days there was no science. The command was given to the Jews - this faith was an umbrella for many different Judaisms. They couldn't even agree if there was a life after death. The people didn't have the means or the time to think. They had only short lives as well. The thinking people could do for themselves had to be very limited because of the times they were in. To read the commandment as saying we can think for ourselves as long as we let God enlighten us is anachronistic. Those people did not have much time for the notion of a God putting thoughts in their minds.
 
And if you use your head and get stuck and God has to fill in the blanks then why will your filled blanks differ from the next person? No two religious people agree on everything and there are fundamental differences between many of them. If God puts thoughts in your mind that is not you thinking for yourself but you not thinking for yourself. In reality what Christianity has is letting you think a bit and that is all.
 
Page 66 says that good arguments for Christianity do not make converts. What they do is support those who already believe and remove obstacles for those who do not believe. True conversion is change of the heart and the spirit.
 
There is conversion as in changing from one belief to the other.
 
There is conversion as in changing your heart to a different state - eg becoming a less bitter person.
 
Page 71 says that the Christian faith is reasonable because it makes sense of what we perceive and observe and experience. It approvingly tells us that Simone Weil stated that if the bulb lights up the room, you do not look at its brightness to work out how powerful it is. You simply look at the objects it lights up to work that out. She said that Christian faith and faith in God are reasonable in the sense that they make sense of what we observe and experience. This is really saying that having a theory that seems to account for the kind of beings we are and the kind of universe we have and our existence and its existence is reasonable. That view is correct. But it does not follow that the Christian faith and faith in God are the best theories or that they are good theories or even coherent theories. The biggest problem is that they are actually incoherent.
 
Take for example how Christians teach, "The reason Jesus' tomb was empty was because he rose from the dead. The empty tomb is evidence that he rose for nobody had reason to steal the body". But we cannot assume nobody had a reason. And the gospels do not say that when the tomb was opened that the body had already gone. In fact they suggest the tomb opened and there was nobody about until the women came and found the body missing. The body could have been taken after the tomb was opened and the body taken.
 
If we can come up with a faith theory to make sense of what we observe and experience then surely the theory should be atheistic? We cannot observe and experience God creating. And if we think we experience God, it is only because we have put that interpretation on the experience. That is not experiencing God but experiencing the perceptions you have made of God.
 
McGrath likes to look for contradictions in the writings of atheists. He states on page ix that there is more to the Christian religion than trying to make sense of things. How hypocritical of him for making sense of things means dealing with and overcoming contradictions!
 
Page 78, he says that when he was an atheist, he concluded that nobody would adopt such a dreary position as atheism unless it were true. He found the stuff about God and Jesus to be too good to be true.
 
The Christians argue that the people who died before they would repudiate the Christian faith show that the faith must be VERY believable and credible when it is worth dying for. They ignore the atheists who suffer by adopting atheism. They even impugn their sincerity.
 
Many atheists are so appalled at human suffering that they despise the thought of honouring God for they don't want to even slightly collude with a God who allows it to happen and who seems to be deaf to the agonising cries. They sacrifice whatever benefits that are alleged to come from faith in God in order to suffer despair with the despairing in a true spirit of compassion. Compassion is suffering with the suffering. These atheists are the real martyrs. Their testimony is better than the blood of insane Christians who choose to die rather than abandon or mock their ridiculous religion. They know nobody has the right to say suffering is agreeable with a good divine plan unless you walk in the steps of every person who has suffered and who will. It is easy for you to say its a plan when you can't know what it is like no matter how much you suffer.
 
Page 88, Dawkins is accused of saying that science explains everything. One problem McGrath finds is that science and its theories cannot explain everything about the world and cannot explain what its purpose is. Another problem is that science is not about explaining the world but the phenomena in the world. John Lennox is cited as stating that science can tell you the composition of a cake but it cannot tell you that the cake is a birthday cake. Its structure/composition is one thing and its purpose is another.
 
But science can know its purpose is a cake period! What a bizarre stupid argument from Lennox! Does it matter if science works out of it it is birthday cake or not as long as it recognises it as the cake that it is?
 
Dawkins holds that in principle science explains everything. That is all that he is saying. In practice its different. We know that in theory science could explain the time Joshua made the sun stand still. But it can't in practice for we can't go back in time and do tests. Christians have to use the straw-man approach to condemn science!
 
Page 89 says that scientific explanations and religious explanations can supplement each other.
 
This is a lie. If you know what science has found, it is easy to invent a faith that sits well with the discoveries.  The faith will fill the gaps in our scientific knowledge. Other people can come up with faiths to rival yours and which also claim to be supplemented by science and fit its gaps. The end result will be many religions all contradicting one another even in foundational matters and all claiming to show that their beliefs and science do not contradict each other. That is not supplementation. It is merely using religion to fill the gaps in science. We talk about the God of the Gaps. This is Religion of the Gaps. It is dishonest to claim that your faith and science both give you the truth when a faith that contradicts yours can fit science as well. And that dishonesty is epidemic in Christianity.
 
It is okay to make guesses to fill the gaps as long as you are willing to abandon them should new evidence tell you to. But to start filling the gaps with God and Religion is saying you must use dogma to fill the gaps. Dogma is that which must be believed even if the evidence refutes it. Organised religion means organised dogmatism. Religion praises the husband who refuses to let evidence of his wife's infidelity stop him trusting her. It praises his dogmatism and asks us to be supporters of its dogmatism.
 
The God of the Gaps and the Religion of the Gaps idea argues, "I don't know what plugs the hole therefore it is God and religion that does it." This is irrational and foolish. It does not follow.
 
Consider the Christian faith's testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. Science cannot prove that Jesus rose for there is no possibility of doing experiments on his body to see if its really dead and no possibility of testing the risen body to see if it is really Jesus raised up. To say that Christianity is supplemented by science and vice versa is silly. Science implies that believing what is tested and determined through experimentation is the most rational form of belief and the best attested. This by default declares religious faith to be inferior. What kind of supplementation is that?
 
Page 94 mentions Clifford's The Will to Believe in which Clifford argued that it is always dishonest and immoral to believe anything on insufficient evidence. Clifford was saying nobody should be allowed to believe things when there there little or no evidence for them. McGrath approves of the psychologist, William James', refutation of this. James argued that its unrealistic to expect people to always look for enough evidence. There isn't the time and sometimes we can't test things. James said we need the working hypothesis. A working hypothesis is a theory we make so that we can live in the world. For example, if you take on employment job you create the working hypnotist that you will get paid. For James faith is a working hypothesis. James said that such faith was not immoral as long as you were open to new evidence and willing to revise or even abandon your faith for another should it turn out irrational or seriously harmful. James said that dogmatic faith was a contradiction in terms. This is faith that ignores evidence. The believer will not change no matter what. For James, the person who ignores evidence against his faith is not a real believer at all. He would be a bigot or an addict or both.
 
Faith that is a working hypothesis is such weak faith that it would be closer to an assumption than anything else.
 
If you have to believe, that does not mean you just settle for believing. You believe if you have to but as soon as you no longer have to you must check out its accuracy. If the belief is true it will only get stronger and better.
 
The religious believer who has faith that is based on little or no evidence and does not avail of the opportunity to check its veracity is showing signs of bigotry. Bigotry is a refusal to honour truth and correctness and by implication those who honour them. It makes life more difficult for those who care about the truth. The religious believer who goes further and who ignores arguments against his faith is far worse.
 
Page 105 says that Charles Darwin was not an atheist though at the end of his life he did not accept traditional Christian beliefs. Page 106 McGrath states that he sees the evidence as showing that Darwin didn't want to talk about his religious beliefs and considered them to be a private matter.
 
McGrath is trying to soften the truth that Darwin made a huge repudiation of Christianity - Christians simply are not allowed to believe and cannot believe that faith is just a personal matter. The Christian is called to share the faith and resist the state when the state undermines the faith.
 
Darwin's privacy may indicate that he was indeed an atheist!
  
Page 115 advocates the view that if evolution is true, then God was involved in it. He set things up to make themselves.
 
So God sets it up so that when a thing from the sea evolves into an ape that it looks like he wasn't involved! If he hides so much how can we believe in miracles? Evolution would be more certain than miracles so it would be evidence that if there is a God he does not like to draw attention to his existence. McGrath on pages 96 and 97 gives us examples of evolution. He accepts it. So McGrath believes in natural selection - survival of the most versatile. He also thinks Christianity is the one true faith - he insinuates that the Christian can be a better person than the non-Christian or the person who has such unorthodox beliefs that he or she cannot be considered to be a real Christian. Clearly, putting two and two together he thinks the goal of evolution is to produce Christians by natural selection. Any other kind of human being is inferior.
 
Page 120 sneakily dismisses Dawkins objections to the moral laws of the Bible God. This God demanded that the Israelite who did not obey the law to rest on the Sabbath was to be put to death. McGrath says that Dawkins talks if these rules were binding on today's Christians which they are not. McGrath complains that Dawkins makes no effort to work out how such texts are understood in the Christian community.
 
But belief in the authority of the rules is binding on Christians. The Christians hold that the rules were correct but today God has suspended them. It seems the laws are still in force. But if they are not, the problem is that God wanted that man cruelly put to death for a peccadillo. That is the issue. It is the principle that is the problem not whether or not the rule is binding on Christians today.
 
Page 122 states that religion is a false universal. In other words there are religions but the thing called religion doesn't exist.
 
Confucianism and some systems that ignore the supernatural are really not religions at all. Religion is what implicitly or explicitly embraces the supernatural. Religion tends to be a label. No two Catholics for example believe the same way. Thus they are really two faiths under one label.
 
Page 123,124 states that historian Martin Marty found five characteristics that show when something is a religion. Marty said that politics has these features as well. McGrath then says that if religion harms then so does politics. But he says we need not worry. The problem is not with religion or politics but fanaticism. He points out that you get fanatics in politics and in religion and even in atheism!
 
The fanatical politician will be seen as psychologically disturbed. He will see himself as being disturbed. It can easily be proven to him that he is going too far.
 
The fanatical religionist is different and far more dangerous. For him, his convictions are not based on natural things but on revelation from God. He has another source of knowledge. It is individual to him. He is immune to any reality check barring a reality check on the beliefs of some others.
 
Even the likes of Florence Nightingale would be a fanatic if her belief was, "The evidence I have for my faith is not the evidence of this world but the evidence given by the Spirit of God present in my heart and testifying to me." Her attitude is extremist even if her outward behaviour is beyond reproach to atheist and believer alike.
 
Page 124 approves of the research of Robert Pape that alleged that if all suicide bombings since 1980 are looked at, religious belief alone cannot account for them. Pape said that when religion played a role it did not play a sufficient role. It was the other motivations - political and the fact that the bombers had no other way to carry out the bombings - that moved them to become human bombs.
 
Atheists rightly point out that religion might have been the thing that made them take that little step over the threshold to become murderers. It is good that Pape admitted that religion has a part in it.
 
Many religions demand that religious principles be applied even when the believer seems to be doing something non-religious. For example, the good Catholic may do his work well and not even mention religion but his motivation is to serve his god through his religion. Consider the economic and social and patriotic reasons the suicide bomber has. They are really religious underneath it all.
 
Page 125 says that absolutism causes the problems associated with religion. The absolutist makes absolute roles that must never be disobeyed. He does this because he sees things in himself that he doesn't like. For example, if he has a sexual weakness for women, he may force women into burkas to hide their attractiveness from him. His controlling is violence in itself and easily erupts into more open violence. He hates being challenged. McGrath observes that absolutism is a problem in religion but anything human is prone to it. Politics is rife with examples of dangerous absolutism.
 
Take an absolutist atheist. He goes, "I know my unbelief in God is correct. I forbid you to build a Church near my house for I don't want to see it. It is an insult to the truth that there is no God." If he had any self-respect or self-confidence he would not carry on like that. The true atheist will be so confident that he is right that he will not care about the Church. He will understand that it takes time for people to absorb the truth and to deal with it. His absolutism looks ridiculous.
 
If you want to be an absolutist and get influence and a semblance of credibility you simply have to claim that you have supernatural knowledge that you are right. There is no other way. In other words, true absolutism is always religious thought not always overtly. Ask yourself who sounds the biggest fool:
 
PERSON A, Socialists should not be tolerated because republicanism is undeniably right. I say this on my own authority.
 
Comment: Person A cannot go that far with their own belief or opinion. He cannot have absolute proof that he is right. He is really pretending that just because he feels something that proves it to be true!
 
PERSON B, Socialists should not be tolerated because republicanism is undeniably right. I say this on God's authority for he has revealed this to me and I know he is right.
 
Comment: Person B is not as ridiculous as Person A. If God exists then we have to admit the possibility that B really does know this.
 
Clearly B is the most dangerous of the two.
 
McGrath makes the point that anything that tries to give people meaning in life and purpose can lead to absolutism especially when it is challenged. Atheists tend to get meaning in life from all the little things. Religionists seek that one big thing that one big God that is going to bring them meaning in life. In reality they are trying to avoid getting meaning in the normal little things and that is dangerous. McGrath's point proves that religion is intrinsically dangerous. When it is good it is still a disaster waiting to happen.
 
Page 127, we see this man, McGrath, who knows the Bible extremely well telling a shameless lie about Jesus Christ. He claimed that Jesus never carried out any form of violence. His Jesus was at the receiving end of violence and was a man of pure peace. He upholds the example of the Amish who got great healing by forgiving all desire for revenge and violence to give only forgiveness to the gunman who murdered five Amish schoolgirls. How people who have no concern for justice that restraints and controls the criminal, justice that protects the innocent, but who endorse forgiveness so that they will persevere their inner peace could be a good healthy example I do not know!
 
Page 129 states that if there is no God, then there is no reason why I cannot commit murder as long as I am sure I will not get caught.
 
Translation: I am a Christian. God forbids me to murder and I won't do it because he forbids it. If I do things to hurt others, it doesn't matter that it hurts them. It only matters that God disapproves. To hell with those who do good because they want to see others happy.
 
And why can't some reason, "If there is no God then there is no reason why I cannot commit murder even if I do get caught"?
 
Page 130 deals with Dawkins blind spot about atheists who would raze Mecca and nice Churches to the ground. He thinks that a religion tends to destroy shrines of other religions when it comes to power but an atheist regime wouldn't do such a thing. Atheist authorities had the University Church of Leipzig destroyed in 1968. This Church was built in the thirteenth century and has been described as a masterpiece. The authorities didn't want it there because they wanted to name the area it occupied after Karl Marx.
 
An atheist who is confident that he is right will not feel the need to persecute. Religion however says that God's rights come first and we are biased towards rebelling against him therefore we need to be protected from influences that take us away from him such as paganism or other religions. Which philosophy logically leads to the destruction of much religious heritage?
 
Atheist regimes can take on religious dogmatic traits - totalitarianism based on atheism did that to the Church in Leipzig not atheism as such.
 
Dawkins said that an atheist would not destroy the building. If an atheist regime does it, that is different. It does not mean that any individual atheist would do it.
 
Page 132 complains that Dawkins didn't seem to realise that once people stop believing in God they make gods out of values such as liberty, equality etc. They forbid questioning of these values and become intolerant and sometimes violently opposed to those who dare to question.
 
Now why is honouring God important? Is it because he deserves it or because honouring somebody so good is inspirational for us and offers us something to aspire to? God religion says its both. If we honour God because he deserves it, then the more evidence or proof we have for his existence the better. If belief in God makes us tend to imitate him in his virtue then the more evidence or proof for his existence the better.
 
Take liberty as an example.
 
If the atheist freethinker can tend to be extremist about promoting liberty, this tendency should be stronger in one who thinks that God somehow is virtue and is liberty.
 
The atheist freethinker can tend to think that liberty deserves to be strongly promoted, but this tendency should be stronger and more extremist in one who teaches that God and this virtue are somehow the same.
 
If the atheist can be fanatical and go too far in upholding the virtue of liberty the believer will be worse especially if he thinks God represents liberty and to honour it is to give God what he deserves.
 
The law of the land is necessarily opposed to the questioning of values of liberty and equality and human dignity - eg you cannot defend racism or you will end up in jail.
 
McGrath should know that most unbelievers in God do not make gods out of things such as freedom and equality to the point that they would do deliberate harm to implement them. Such evil would be counter-productive.
 
It is interesting that the book never complains about Dawkins' view that science has no way of telling us what actions are ethical and what are not.
 
A good person is a person who does good.
 
Morality and ethics are the same thing. A moral person is a person who keeps moral laws. Morality is a form of law. Real law commands that there be a price for breaking it. Morality then is different from goodness though it is based on goodness.
 
Science cannot tell us what is ethical but it can tell us what is good. If science did not see consistent thinking as good it would not be science.
 
Page 133 says that Dawkins is right to say that religion which leads to the formation of in-groups and out-groups - hey I'm part of this religion and you are not - can, in theory, contribute to violence along with other factors. McGrath notes that Dawkins himself has made an in-group - his atheists - who are against the believers who are the out-group. McGrath would agree that Jesus made an in-group but he claims that this in-group was expected to love the out-group.
 
Dawkins could urge love for the out-group too. He says religion is evil so clearly he implies that believers need to be lovingly rescued from it.
 
If atheism is correct, then it cannot be condemned for being an in-group. If groups can lead to violence merely by the fact that they are groups, only groups based on lies and illusion must be condemned. It is not the right in-groups fault that there are wrong in-groups.
 
Page 136, he says that some unbelievers regard humanity as its own rational and moral authority and then contradict this by condemning religion as the opponent of true rationality and true concern for our moral development. He says it is inconsistent to argue that religion is evil, to see it also as a mere human invention and to argue that the human beings that created it are rational and moral!
 
Since when did any atheist think that all human beings are rational? It is a tiny minority that make religion. We are our own rational and moral authority and if we abuse these that does not prove we have no authority but proves that we abuse it.
 
Page 137, he quotes Michael Shermer who wrote that religion cannot be categorised as unambiguously good or evil. He says he quotes him as evidence of a freethinker who knows that religion is not all bad. McGrath then notes that religion is not the only thing that can lead to violence and cruelty. He lists politics, race, ethnicity and of course aggressive atheism that refuses to learn from religion.
 
The answer is that organised religion is unnecessary and therefore it is an irresponsible risk to be part of it. Also, Christianity is an example of the many organised religions that urge that the law of the state must be opposed and overthrown if it contravenes the rules of the religion. For example, Christians are to continue baptising babies even if the state declares this illegal. The underlying attitude is that religious rules take precedence.
 
Page 137 also states that both religion and science can spawn monsters. McGrath correctly says that something should not be condemned because it is being abused. Only what is good can be abused.
 
We must however note that it is the abuse of science that spawns monsters. We need science so the risk is justified. But do we need religion? Where are the people who died because they couldn't get a religion? Religion as an organised entity is unnecessary and therefore nobody can excuse its cruelties or excesses by saying it is merely being abused.
 
Page 145, he writes that the New Atheists claim that religion depends on beliefs for which there is no evidence. He finds this hypocritical for these atheists believe that human beings will become better than they are - an idea for which there is no evidence. We might all be dead next week if there is a nuclear war or a bad enough nuclear accident.
 
If I am optimistic about the human potential to improve that says something about me. It says I see myself improving and thus I am easily able to believe and hope that others will improve too. McGrath has the audacity to slam that as hypocrisy. Thus he proves that he is not the big supporter of morality and goodness that he pretends to be.
 
Who says the atheist has to believe we will get better? What is wrong with saying you don't believe we will get better or that we will not get better as long as you hope we will improve? Maybe believer or unbeliever, hoping is all I am doing?
 
If McGrath believes that we will get better then he better accuse himself of hypocrisy!
 
If an atheist perceives that people on the whole are better than they used to be he or she is not to be accused of blind faith for believing that this progress will continue.
 
Every main point made in the book contains lies and distortions. The book helps use see how Christianity is nonsense.