February 26, 2013

How to Deal with Disagreeable Aspects of Christianity

Greetings Dr. Craig,

I have a bit of an unusual dilemma. I'm not at all opposed to the idea of God, nor His intense and challenging construct for the salvation of mankind. I don't even balk at His insistence of worship! The unusual bit is that, unlike so many agnostics and unbelievers, I'm not hateful toward God for His dealings with, for example, the Amalekites, nor the practice of circumcision, nor many other "stumbling blocks." I just don't understand how I can subscribe to the idea of committing myself to Someone who would dictate such disagreeable (to my sensibility, anyway) things without feeling some sort of intellectual suicide on my part. How can I rectify these feelings?

I also want to say that I appreciate your masterful skills of debate and logic. You always comport yourself with graciousness and respectfulness even in the face of unwarranted attacks and insults. Thank you.


United States

Thanks for your encouraging words, Steve! There are certainly aspects of Christianity that people will find disagreeable to one extent or another. I take it that what you consider unusual about your case is that these disagreeable features of Christianity do not elicit in you an emotional reaction, as is the case with so many other unbelievers, but are simply a source of intellectual puzzlement which is an obstacle to Christian commitment. So how can one deal with these disagreeabilities?

The very first thing to do is to put them in perspective. I find that people who are struggling with some issue tend to become myopic. All they see is the particular question or problem that they are struggling with. They fail to step back and see the big picture. Like a person holding his thumb in front of his face and seeing it as larger than the Empire State Building, so they are so focused on their particular issue that it looms larger than anything else in the background. This is obviously a mistake. Our goal should not be to find a worldview with no difficulties but rather the worldview with the least difficulties. The unresolved difficulties must be seen in proper proportion within the evidentiary context of the general worldview.

So I would encourage you to review the arguments and evidence in favor of Christian theism. Look at those eight arguments that I presented in my opening speech of my debate with Alex Rosenberg (and throw in the ontological argument for good measure). Weigh those along with the problems attending metaphysical naturalism which I mentioned in my second speech. I think they give us very good grounds for thinking that Christian theism is true.

But, you might say, that doesn't give us any good reason to think that God has commanded circumcision, for example, or the extermination of the Amalekites. Precisely! My arguments go to establish what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the broad outlines of a Christian worldview, which includes things like the existence of God and His decisive self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. It is no part of mere Christianity to believe that God commanded circumcision or the extermination of the Amalekites. They therefore present no fundamental obstacle to belief in a Christian worldview.

So what do these difficulties show? Well, if they are insuperable, they would at most be an obstacle to belief in biblical inerrancy. You would have to think that God did not in fact command such things. As a Christian, you'd have to adjust your view of the Bible so that its inspiration by God does not guarantee its inerrancy on every score. That need not undermine belief in its inspiration or general reliability, much less in the truth of mere Christianity. So I would encourage you not to allow these disagreeable features of Christianity to constitute an obstacle between you and God—they are not that big a deal!

But are these obstacles in any case insuperable? I don’t think so. Take circumcision, for example. It seems to me very subjective whether one finds this procedure disagreeable or not. You apparently find it repugnant, but this is not the case for the vast majority of Americans, including me. So I just don’t identify at all with your feelings of repugnance about circumcision. So it’s hard for me to think that this procedure is somehow objectively disagreeable. But if its disagreeable nature is simply a matter of subjective opinion, then that is no obstacle to thinking that God commanded the Jews to so distinguish themselves among ancient peoples. There is even less rationale for this procedure today than there was in the ancient world, yet it continues to be widely practiced without most people’s thinking it disagreeable.

On the other hand the apparent command to exterminate the Amalekites presents a very serious moral problem for biblical inerrantists. For it is hard to see how the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible to be a good and loving God could give such a horrific command. Now I have attempted to wrestle honestly with this problem in Questions of the Week #16 and #225. I have yet to read a similarly honest and rational response to my proposed solution. I have laid out a moral theory which allows us to affirm consistently both that God is all-good and all-loving and that He commanded the Israeli armies to drive out the Canaanites and to kill any that failed to flee. The only responses to my solution that I have read have been simply angry denunciations and misrepresentations of my position. There has been a striking lack of intellectual engagement with my proposed solution. So if your problem with the command to exterminate the Amalekites is not emotional but strictly intellectual, as you say, then I invite you to consider my solution to this problem. On its basis I think we can affirm that there is no obstacle to thinking that God did, in fact, issue such a command.

I do not know what other disagreeabilities you find in Christianity. But I do encourage you to follow the pattern I laid out here. See them in their proper perspective within the evidentiary context for a Christian worldview. Strive to find intellectual solutions to these problems, if they are not merely subjective matters of personal taste. If you cannot find a solution to the problem, then either hold the truth in tension, awaiting an eventual solution to the problem, or else give up the minimal amount that you would have to in order to retain a consistent Christian worldview. But don’t allow them to stand between you and a personal relationship with God.