As my tenure as a columnist for The Daily Tar Heel wanes, I find myself amazed at the correspondence I've shared with my readers. Often it is richer than anything I could possibly write on my own - and so I'd like to share just one bit of it with you.
Last week an atheist reader noticed the "religious subtext" of my articles. He took me to task in the following dialogue (edited only for space and clarity):
I recently read your article on violence and couldn't agree with you more. You did happen to miss pinpointing the biggest culprit . The Bible is packed full of the offensive on every page. It has more sex than hours of porno and more violence than Hollywood with its army of liberal producers . The answer to violence is quite simple. Instead of attacking violent films and musicians, attack the source of violence in our society . Christianity. The Bible should contain an "R" rating . we should mandate that no one be able to go to church until they are old enough to understand the violence .
- Jacob (Atheist)
Sorry, but I don't think it's even slightly valid to suggest that "too much Bible-reading" is causing American violence. Americans were far more religious when we were far less violent.
It's true that the Bible chronicles much violence and that the Old Testament pays tribute to the side of God that is violently offended by sin. But in context, this is part of a larger story.
Those punished with violence in the stories of the Old Testament are consistently guilty of transgression - and the purpose (in my eyes) of the entire narrative is to instill in the human race an understanding of the seriousness of our sin problem. God is telling us that sin is a life and death matter.
The Bible is increasingly (as one moves toward the New Testament) a picture of something coming gradually into focus - from the mythical account of Eden to the historical appearance of Christ.
God begins by driving home to humanity the severity of sin, and then moves on to surprising us with His grace.
But really, whether Christianity makes us better or worse people is not the issue. If Christianity is true, then every honest man ought to believe it; if it is false, then every honest man ought to disbelieve with a passion. I take it that you are in the second camp, and if atheism is your honest conviction, I respect you and am amazed by you.
I cannot honestly understand an ideology that says men and women are mere accidents. It also seems to me that without God there is no logical moral basis for condemning violence. But if atheism is your sincere conviction, I suppose it is best that you reject Christianity.
I hope, though, that your disbelief stems from an honest look (and rejection) of the claims of Christ instead of on distaste with Old Testament violence. It doesn't really matter whether Moses killed the Canaanites. But it matters quite a lot whether Jesus was God incarnate.
That is the whole crux of things.
I have now given myself away entirely. God bless.
- Craig (Christian)
I wonder at bizarre creatures like you . anyone who has these strange unfounded religious beliefs . remember that there is more evidence for the existence of the Easter Bunny than a savior! If you get time, I'd love to talk it over a cup of coffee (unless you're Mormon).
No need for the insults, man. I think the evidence for a savior is strong, and I know that many intelligent men and women have agreed with me through the ages.
Atheism doesn't have a unilateral claim on intelligence - even if you personally think I'm a nut.
I, too, have studied much on Christ's claims, biblical textual criticism, etc - and I've come to different conclusions than you. Perhaps you are the wiser man among us. Perhaps not. In the end we'll both know.
I remain uncertain as to why you are writing to me. Clearly you sensed my religious convictions in my writing and wished to challenge me. And clearly I have affirmed to you that I believe in Christ. Because you think that such belief is "unfounded" and thus the realm of the foolish, it seems that I am worthless to you.
I wish you well in all things. Also, I am not Mormon.
I'm not trying to insult or convert you. I was just pointing out the simple fact that you are a hypocrite . you will quickly condemn violent movies but . don't see anything wrong with millions of people wearing a crucifix (old-fashioned electric chair) around their neck .
I haven't had time to write Jacob back. So I'll do it now.
I already know I'm a hypocrite.
Every day I violate my own standards.
Every day I fail the God I claim to love.
And every day this semester I've fought to halt the un-Christian violence that arises in my own heart when my ideas are twisted and thrown back at me.
Fortunately for me, we Christians don't wear crosses in celebration of the ritual of execution. We wear them because they remind us that God loved us enough to sacrifice himself for us - despite all our violence and hypocrisy.
God keep you, Jacob.
Craig Warner has two weeks left. E-mail him while you can at email@example.com.