The Great Christian, Muslim & Atheist Debate

(This article was published in The Witness on 13 October 2010)

I TOO have been entertained by letters in The Witness from Christians, Muslims, and atheists engaged in intense debate, with the Editor entering the fray appealing for calm (The Witness, October 7).

The Christian-atheist debate (with Muslims as fellow theists) is, predictably, about logic and reason, where reason tends to be defined by the user. Much of the Christian evidence is, by admission, only visible to the eyes of faith. We have discovered (through faith) the origins of the universe and the reason for our being. If you don’t believe, well, you’re just not going to get it. The atheist god of science appears more logical and evidence-based but atheists ignore those instances where theory bridges the gaps between disjointed facts, and faith replaces evidence.

Christians have argued about morals having a distinctly religious and even (some daringly claim) Christian origin. It is hard to argue for a random coming together of particles to form the universe and then argue for a moral compass built in or discovered along the way. Some atheists do so nonetheless quite comfortably.

Atheists argue that religion (especially Christianity) has been the major factor in most if not all of the wars the world has endured. That’s rather hard to sustain since atheists also point to the rather late development of religion as a palliative or control mechanism some five or 10 000 years ago. Man (and I deliberately use the male gender) has, however, been bashing his neighbour with ever more sophisticated sticks and stones ever since yours was discovered to be bigger and more beautiful than mine, long before religion came along.

But the presence of a religious motive, or at least a claim to religious commitment in most of the wars of the past couple of thousand years, makes the Christian claim that violence and aggression are the result of ungodly behaviour or a lack of religion, just as difficult to sustain.

The Christian-Muslim debate centres largely on Islam seen as a violent faith. I (and perhaps half those in the debate) know far too little about Islam to comment. Most of our evidence comes from what we see happening in far-flung parts of the world where the violent extremist finds space in the world’s media. The history of Christianity is littered with violence and the church has not kept itself aloof from the conflicts spawned in its name. The Christian scriptures, like Islam’s, have their fair share of violence and call to arms. Both sides in this debate would be better off pointing to the people who demonstrate their faith in action, rather than arguing about the violent nature of the other’s scriptures or past history. Far better to point to those whose expression of their faith gives us hope for the future of our world. Dr Imtiaz Sooliman and Peter Kerchhoff are two examples for those of us from Pieter­maritzburg.

The Christian faith is not primarily an intellectual faith, although there is nothing abhorrent to the intellect. It is, primarily, of the heart, generating a life transformed from within. We are people of the gospel with good news to tell. Jesus did participate in debate but he did so for the most part in anger or disappointment. When he wanted to engage, he told a story and touched the heart.

We, too, are at our best when we tell stories of lives transformed, peacemakers in action, and grace and forgiveness overcoming hate and despair. But none of these creative processes and life-changing stories is proof. They are signs along the way. But they are, of course, only seen as such through the eye of faith.



Filed under Articles, Odds & Ends

4 responses to “The Great Christian, Muslim & Atheist Debate

  1. Sanford Baites

    I do like the manner in which you have framed this specific problem and it really does provide me a lot of fodder for thought. Nonetheless, coming from just what I have personally seen, I basically hope when the feed-back pack on that people remain on point and in no way start upon a soap box of some other news of the day. Anyway, thank you for this outstanding piece and though I do not really concur with it in totality, I regard your viewpoint.


  2. Pingback: Utoya and Me: The Atmosphere I Create | Wondering Preacher

  3. Thank you for the post. Christianity is an historical religion. The Christian J. Gresham Machen helpfully wrote,

    “Christianity is an historical phenomenon, like the Roman Empire, or the Kingdom of Prussia, or the United States of America. And as an historical phenomenon it must be investigated on the basis of historical evidence” (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 20).

    Machen also wrote,

    “The primitive Church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also, and primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried”–that is history. “He loved me and gave Himself for me”–that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church” (Ibid, 29).

    The death of Jesus on the cross was an historical event and this is denied by Muslims. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was an historical event and this is denied by both Muslim and Atheists. Denying God’s work in history is both irrational and ungodly.



    • Thanks for your comment, Aaron.
      Yours is a facinating blog and book. I have only been able glance quickly through some of your posts. We do need to listen to each other more deeply, rather than rant about each other’s extremests.
      For the ordinary Christian interacting with both Muslims and atheists (and without the kind of knowledge you are gaining), our various stories are much more powerful than our arguments.
      Thanks for the visit.


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