Disproving Christianity and other Secular Wrtings (Revised Second Edition) by David G. McAfee is another curious item that has come my way of late. It's author is a surprisingly young man (I first doubted the back cover photo was truely him), and is newcomer to the world of freethought. His book was originally self-published according to Wikipedia, but evenually found a publishing home with "Dangerous Little Books" a book series challenging traditional faith.
Unlike other similar texts, DC does not spend much of its pages attacking percieved logical fallacies in the Bible. Rather, it focuses mainly on moral/ethical problems, chiefly OT atrocities, which, unfortunately for the Christian, there are many to be found. For a "moderate" beleiver such as myself (I hesitate to define my Christianity as "liberal"), refuting arguments such as McAfee's is not very difficult: the terrible atrocities carried out by God or in His name didn't really happen, and/or aren't mean to be taken literally. However, the problem with this approach is that it leaves me standing on one side of the debate, and McAfee and most conservative Christians united on the other.
Another point of argument that fortunately, not many Christians, conservative or otherwise, would agree (though some do, as I've explored in my previous essay on King's Revival) is the disturbing topic of kids in hell. McAfee argues that the Bible, according to logic, would dictate that infants and small children too young to learn about God and religion would end up in hell if they died, because according to the Bible, Jesus is the "only way to heaven." I had a Christian pastor once who made precisely the same argument.
John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the father except by me." Those are the words of the Lord Himself. It is certainly truth that "no one comes to the Father but through Jesus."
But what, exactly, does that mean? To most evangelizing beleivers it seems to mean that one must beleive in the historicity of Christ's sacrifice, and pledge themselves to Him. In other words, convert to the faith. But, theorectically, if the Lord should decide to save, say a total unbeleiver like Richard Dawkins, with no requirment at all (and for an atheist, giving up what believes is one's "rationality" and worldview would indeed to a heavy price tag for salvation), that person would still be saved by Christ. The same certainly holds for children too young to understand faith or the minuatae or faith. McAfee is making a straw-man assumption that salvation depends on technicalities, and then taking those technecalities to an extreme. Technicalities cannot work in the case of salvation, because they are not based on morality at all. Being born in the wrong place or being fed the wrong information about spirituality cannot, in itself, determine salavation. Only one's spiritual state can dtermine that.
Another of McAfee's central arguments in this book (perhaps the central argument) is that secularism is best path toward true altruism and morality:
"Not only do I believe that it is possible to maintain moral standards without the crutch of religion but I would argue that it is the only way to achieve true goodness."
Now, on the surface this argument appears to be logical. If you aren't constantly trying to appease a diety, or in fear of hellfire, it appears that you should be accpomplish good works simply because they are good. It certainly seems to make sense. Doing good merely to avoid punishment or secure reward, is, in fact, motivated by self-interest. This is clearly true. Wouldn't it be better to free ourselves from our faith to achieve genuine altruism?
However, McAfee fails to point out what we all know:
It doesn't work.
Statistics across the board have shown than secualrists lag behind Christians when it comes to charity and personal kindness. This is precisely the opposite of what we should expect if McAfee's supposition were true:
The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior. For example, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions…
Charity differences between religious and secular people persist if we look at the actual amounts of donations and volunteering. Indeed, measures of the dollars given and occasions volunteered per year produce a yawning gap between the groups. The average annual giving among the religious is $2,210, whereas it is $642 among the secular. Similarly, religious people volunteer an average of 12 times per year, while secular people volunteer an average of 5.8 times. To put this into perspective, religious people are 33 percent of the population but make 52 percent of donations and 45 percent of times volunteered. Secular people are 26 percent of the population but contribute 13 percent of the dollars and 17 percent of the times volunteered.
These differences hardly change when we consider them in isolation from the other demographics, using a statistical technique called tobit regression. Religious practice by itself is associated with $1,388 more given per year than we would expect to see from a secular person (with the same political views, income, education, age, race, and other characteristics), as well as with 6.5 more occasions of volunteering. (Arthur Brooks, 2003)
Phil Zuckerman, a noted secularist himself, has made essentially the same observation in his recent book, Living the Secular Life , so thing do not appear to have changed since. The reasons for the desparity of charity giving between the secular and the believing may be many; one rather obvious possibilty I've long considered is the fact that, the majority of atheists being social liberals, there is the supposition that charity is up to the government more than the individual.
But what McAfee gapingly overlooks in making his argument is the Christian concept of grace. He states idetifies, correctly, that attempting to gain favor with God is self-serving. This is precisely why one cannot "work one's way into heaven." It goes straight to the heart of why spiritual rebirth must necessarily come first, followed by good works, not the reverse. McAfee seems not to be paying attention to what so many Christians, are, in fact stressing. As I've offtimes argued the emphasis on God's grace rather than works can sometimes mislead, but it is nonetheless true. McAfee would do well to that fact into account for any further updates of Disproving Christianity.