Hello Dr. Oakes. I wanted to ask you a question about studying the Bible with a friend of mine who is a Hare Krishna. How should I approach it? I know a little bit about the religion through talking with him and reading a bit of the Baghavad Gita. I really want him to become a disciple but I don’t really know what to do. I really appreciate your perspective on apologetics and its inspired me to learn more. Thanks.
My suggestion is that you familiarize yourself with the Hindu world view so that you can engage in a discussion with your friend on that basis. Hare Krishna are Hindus, of course. Their basic world view is pantheism, which means that they do not believe in a personal God, but a kind of force or presence which pervades the universe. According to the Hindu world view, we are god and need to find our god-self within ourselves. This god-within is called atman. The goal of life is for atman to disappear into brahman, which is the universal soul.
Let me put it this way. If what Jesus said is true, then the Hindu/Hare Krishna world view is not true. Jesus is clear. We are not God. Our goal is not to disappear into an impersonal universal presence but to be resurrected to live with God. So, in your discussion, you should be clear that there are two diametrically opposed world views. The “two paths to the same goal” idea is utter nonsense. You should do this with love, patience, acceptance and without attacking the Hindu world view. This should be done with patience and respect. You should treat your Hare Krishna friend as you would want to be treated, which is to assume he is sincere and trying to do what is right. This is the Golden Rule. After establishing the unresolvable differences between the basic world views, you should move on to present the evidence that Jesus lived a perfect life, worked public miracles of all kinds, fulfilled dozens of prophecies and was resurrected from the dead. This should lend credence to the inspiration of his words and of the New Testament, which should be a good lead-in to your friend studying the Bible if he/she is open. From there, I would get him to read the book of John. Ideally, you can do it together. If he is open at all, he will be attracted to the Jesus of the New Testament.
I am including an essay on world view below in which I expand on the Hindu world view significantly. Also, there is a set of notes and power point on world religions at my web site which gives still more detail on Hinduism. It is at http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/class-on-world-religions-to-be-taught-in-san-diego-2/
I hope this gets you started. See below for the essay.
Apologetics and the Christian World View
A number of years ago I wrote and published a book which I thought at the time covered all of the important basic topics relating to Christian Evidence for those trying to build up the faith of young Christians and non-believers. The book is titled, Reasons for Belief: A Handbook of Christian Evidence. It brings together evidence in support of Christian belief from the claims of Jesus, miracles, the resurrection, messianic and other prophecies, archaeology, history and the Bible, support for the documentary reliability of the Bible, science and the Bible, and it discusses supposed inconsistencies in the Bible. In the past three years I have come to the conclusion that there is one major topic which is essential in any basic but comprehensive Christian evidences discussion which is not included in my book. This is the subject of world view.
What is a world view and why is a discussion of world view essential to even the most basic attempts to create and sustain Christian belief? Quite simply, one’s world view is the perspective one uses to process and interpret information received about the world. James W. Sire put it this way, “A world view is a set of presuppositions (ie. assumptions) which we hold about the basic makeup of our world.” We live in a world in which the Christian world view is not only not the norm, to the vast majority-even to many who attend church regularly-it seems about as strange as belief in lepruchans or the tooth fairy. Our intellectual institutions are dominated by postmodern philosophy and scientific materialism. Many believe that all religions are more or less the same. The very existence of truth is denied, both in the halls of our universities and in popular media. It will be very difficult to plant the seed of rational evidence in such unfertile ground. We must explore and explain the major world views and demonstrate carefully why that proposed by the Bible is superior, because it is logically most consistent with the world as it really is, because it answers most successfully the fundamental questions all human beings ask, and because in comports best with what the human conscience knows is good and right.
In this essay I will be analyzing the most influential world views in modern culture; contrasting these to the Christian world view, explaining why we feel that the Bible offers a view of the world which is superior, both in its consistency with the world as it is and in the way it solves the fundamental human questions. For those who want to dig a little deeper into the topic, let me suggest a good primer on the subject. It is The Universe Next Door, by James W. Sire (several copies available as I write at Amazon for less than 1$!). For those who want to dig really deep, there is the tome produced by J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. A note of caution, this book is not easy reading and it is not cheap to buy!
In the first part of this essay, I will be describing briefly the Christian world view. It is tempting to assume that a Christian, almost by definition, understands the Christian world view, and of course there is a grain of truth in this. However, it is my own experience that many believers in Jesus Christ have an insufficient understanding of how Jesus Christ viewed the world in which humans exist. For this reason, this introduction will be used both to more carefully define the world view to which Christians ought to hold, and as a point of comparison when we discuss the world view of postmodernism, naturalism, new ageism and the major world religions.
First, let us ask what a “good” world view ought to look like? Is a “good” world view, by definition, one that we like—that we find ourselves naturally agreeing with? Is it one which creates good physical or emotional health? Is it the one which creates the greatest amount of human happiness? Perhaps it is the one which results in the creation of the greatest amount of economic growth and movement away from poverty and political upheaval. In fact, according to one world view, that of naturalism, there is no such thing as a “good” world view, as all such value judgments are meaningless. There is a sense in which this question of what constitutes a good world view is a personal decision for all of us. Each of us reading this article must, in the end, decide what constitutes a good and legitimate world view. Let us put this out there as a starting thesis. It is not possible to have no world view at all (please forgive the double negative). We will have one by default if we do not choose to think about it. Given that our world view in large measure defines who we are and determines how we live our lives, surely it is worth the time and intellectual effort to examine, evaluate and perhaps even change our world view toward one which more accurately reflects reality and makes us a better citizen of the universe in which we live and move and have our being.
A “Good” World View
What makes for a good world view? It has already been said that this has to be a personal decision, but let me propose a few qualities for us to consider when looking at the major world views.
The first quality which one might want to consider that makes a world view “good” is that it is true. To hold to an idea which is false is surely not to be preferred to holding to an idea which is true. There is no virtue and there is very rarely an advantage in being wrong. What makes something true? This is a question for philosophy, but let us try to keep this relatively simple. Something is “true” if it is consistent with reality. This is sometimes called the Correspondence Theory of Truth. If a belief is in clear contradiction with well-established facts about the world, then it is not true. This may seem a truism, but we will see that the Postmodern does not accept the Correspondence Theory of Truth. If one holds to the belief that gravity does not operate to attract masses toward one another, that view will be disproved by letting go of a heavy object. If one holds to the idea that refusal to communicate leads to peace, that too will be shown by reality not to be true. The sticking point, of course, comes with defining how one decides what is reality and what is true. One perspective, that of the empiricist, is that truth is determined solely by what we can observe with our senses and what we can measure with our instruments. Another perspective, that of rationalists such as DesCartes, is that which is true is that which my mind and clear reasoning tells me is true. What is true must be logical. The one who said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident” was speaking as a rationalist. Most of us who do not occupy the rarified regions of philosophy can be more practical in our definition. We can combine the two ideas. Those things we hold to be true must be consistent with what we can observe-with our own “history” and hopefully that of others, and they must be rational-logically consistent. It must not be supported by circular or patently poor reasoning or require us to believe what we know not to be true.
The second quality which makes for a “good” world view is that it successfully answers the important questions humans ask. What these important questions are and how one is to define success in answering them is, of course, subjective to some extent. However, there are a number of questions for which people everywhere seek the answers. Below is the list of such questions from The Universe Next Door, slightly reworded:
1. What is prime reality? (or What is the ultimate cause? or What is the nature of God?)
2. What is the nature of external reality-the world around us?
3. What is a human being?
4. What happens to a person at death?
5. Why is it possible for us to know anything at all?
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
7. What is the meaning of human history?
To these let me add:
8. What is my purpose?
9. What is the nature of my relationship, with the “prime reality?”
The third quality which makes for a “good” world view is that those who ascribe to it are better human beings for having taken this as their world view. Again, of course, “better” is going to be subjective, but there are a few measures to which nearly all people can agree. If one’s world view results on balance in an increased likelihood of genocide, racial or any other kind of hatred, poverty, anarchy, physical and emotional suffering or war, then such a world view is easily identified an deficient. We will be subjecting the important world views to scrutiny based on these three definitions of what make for a good world view. Is it true? Does it successfully answer the important questions? and Does it make those who hold to it “better” people?
The Christian World View
Clearly, a lot of things can be included under the heading of the Christian world view. My intent here is to keep it very simple and not necessarily provide a lot of scriptural support at this point. We will add to these ideas as we go along, as well as giving them flesh. In order to provide a useful basis as we proceed to analyze, compare and contrast the biblical with other world views, the points will be outlined and numbered.
1. The physical world is:
b. created and
c. essentially good.
These points are established before we get out of the first chapter in the Bible. The reader should be aware that these presuppositions are definitely NOT held to by many of the influential world views. Many believe that the physical world is an illusion. Many believe that the universe(s) have existed forever. Even more hold to the belief as part of their view of the world that physical reality is corrupted and evil. To summarize, consider Genesis 1:31 (NIV) “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the sixth day.”
2. There exists a parallel unseen spiritual reality which is not limited to or defined by the physical reality.
A scripture which supports both this presupposition and the first is Hebrews 11:3 (HCSB), “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen has been made from things that are not visible.” This verse also can be used to support our third point of the Christian world view.
3. The creator of both the physical and spiritual realm is the God who is revealed and who reveals himself in the Bible.
4. Although the physical world is good, evil does exist. Such evil is the result of freedom of will given to created beings and their subsequent decision to use that freedom to “sin” (defined as transgressing the will of God).
5. Human beings have both a physical and a spiritual nature, but the spiritual nature is more essential as it is eternal.
6. There is a definite right and wrong for human behavior which is determined by God.
It is interesting to note that all of these are stated or implied in the first three chapters of Genesis. It is apparent that God wanted to establish right up front how he wants his people to view the world.
My intention here is to analyze how “good” (good being defined above) the Christian world view is principally by comparing and contrasting it with other world views. In other words, the idea that the created physical world is good will be supported when I contrast it with the Hindu idea that the physical world is an illusion or the Greek idea that it is essentially evil, or the naturalist view that it is not created. In the last section of the essay, I will come back to the Christian world view, explaining why I believe it is that Jesus Christ provided us with what is far and away the “best” view of the world which has even been presented to mankind. It is my hope that in the process some of my readers will have had their view of the world changed-that it will more perfectly reflect the perspective of Jesus of Nazareth.
We have already looked at why people ought to think carefully about their view of the world, and at the importance of forming and holding to a consistent world view. We have considered a reasonable set of criteria for what might make for a “good” view of the world. In addition, we have given a bare bones description of the Christian world view. The first alternative world view we will contrast with that of Christianity is Naturalism; also known as Scientific Materialism. This is probably the simplest to understand of all the world views we will cover in this series. Let us consider several statements defining Naturalism:
The only reliable or valid instrument to deciding the truth or even the value of any proposition is the scientific method.
The only reality is that which is observable by physical means. There is no spiritual reality, no moral truth, no God, no life after death, no soul, no spirit, no consciousness, except perhaps as an epiphenomenon.
Consider that of Richard Lewontin:
“We exist as material beings in a material world, all of whose phenomena are the consequences of material relations among material entities. In a word, the public needs to accept materialism, which means that they must put God in the trash can of history where such myths belong.”
The following are not definitions of Scientific Materialism, but represent obvious implications of this philosophy.
A statement of Naturalism from Richard Dawkins; world-famous atheist and evolutionist:
In the universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt and other people are going to get lucky: and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.
From Thomas Huxley, known as “Darwin’s bulldog”:
We are as much the product of blind forces as is the falling of a stone to earth, or the ebb and flow of the tides. We have just happened, and man was made flesh by a long series of singularly beneficial accidents.
Consider for a moment the implications of this rather depressing world view. If it is true then my personal concept of “I” is a delusion. My perception of consciousness is simply the accidental result of neurons firing and chemicals moving around in my brain (ie consciousness is an epiphenomenon). When I say to my wife or my children “I love you,” what this means in reality is that when I think about them my neural pathways light up in a particular way and certain neurotransmitters change their level of activity. Love is not a thing in itself (and of course the biblical statement that God is love is sheer nonsense). If the naturalist is correct then there is no purpose to life whatsoever, except perhaps the evolutionary “purpose” to procreate and create as many copies of my particular genetic material as possible. If the naturalist is right than my personal belief that murder, lying and stealing are wrong has no basis whatever in absolute truth, but is simply one person’s particular opinion-one dictated not by truth but, if anything, by a genetic predisposition toward thinking that way, created by a kind of cultural natural selection.
My personal experience tells me that virtually no one can accept this world view with all its implications. Despite this fact, in many intellectual circles it is the publically accepted world view and those who do not hold to it are laughed at. Educated people who believe that there is a spiritual reality which supersedes the physical reality are treated derisively as holding to an immature, outmoded and silly idea about the world. In fact, materialists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens publicly declare religionists to be the enemy of human progress and directly or indirectly the cause of all evil in the world (this despite the fact that they do not believe that evil exists).
What is the genesis of this world view? To discover the source of Naturalism, one must turn the clock back to the Scientific Revolution. The fact is that the creators of the Scientific Revolution—Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo and others—were all believers in the Christian world view. In fact, their belief in science followed directly from the Christian world view. Belief in the God of the Bible led Bacon and others to conclude that there must be a single, unchanging set of laws governing the physical universe. These theologians also concluded from their biblical world view that a personal God of love must have made the physical universe to be intelligible to human reason and analyzable by mathematical analysis. All of these “Christian” assumptions turned out to be true (as far as we can tell) and thus science was invented.
However, in the process of discovering how nature worked, scientists such as Isaac Newton discovered that the universe works according to what seem to be entirely mechanical laws; laws which are so regular and predictable that it seemed God could be removed from the equation. In fact, French mathematician and physicist Pierre-Simone La Place, when asked by Napolean, “Where is God?” in his theory of mechanics replied, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” Scottish philosopher David Hume questioned whether we can know anything absolutely and especially whether belief in God had any empirical validity. The rise of deism in the late eighteenth century led to scientific materialism/naturalism by the nineteenth century. Although Darwin himself was not a strict materialist, his work certainly provided fodder for scientism. Only in the twentieth century did we begin to see aggressive scientific materialists such as Bertrand Russel and Carl Sagan beginning to publicly attack all other world views as infantile and foolish.
A Response to Scientific Materialism
Any claim that Scientific Materialism is a superior world view to that of Christianity ought to be analyzed according to specific criteria. Let me begin by quoting a comment on materialism as a world view. (I apologize that I can no longer find the source of this quote.) “The theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and the end-all—that what is not in science textbooks is not worth knowing—is an ideologist with a peculiar and distorted doctrine of his own. For him, science is no longer a sector of the cognitive enterprise, but an all-inclusive world view. This is the doctrine not of science but of scientism. To take this stance is not to celebrate science but to distort it.” I have already proposed a set of criteria for a “good” world view we can use for consideration. A superior world view will be one which:
1. Is true (in other words consistent with reality on various levels)
2. Answers the questions and solves the problems human beings really care about.
3. Causes the person who holds to this world view to be a “better” person.
I reject Naturalism because it is patently false, it does not answer any of the problems and questions human beings as a whole care about and it does not tend to help its believers to be better people than they would have been if holding to alternative world views.
Naturalism is self-defeating. It is based on circular reasoning and for many reasons it produces assumptions which are simply not in agreement with common human experience. Therefore it is not “true” (criterion #1 above). The scientific world-view presupposes that the universe is ordered and essentially unchanging. It assumes that the laws which govern the universe are inviolable and that the universe is observable and understandable to human beings; that the human mind has a one-to-one correspondence with the way reality is. The naturalist then proceeds to apply these assumptions to rule out all other world views. The spiritual or supernatural are, by definition, not real. This is circular reasoning. None of the assumptions made as the foundation of science can be proved by experiment or by observation. In this sense, at its most foundational level, science itself is not scientific. It is not that the discoveries of science are wrong. Not at all. Clearly science has given us access to reliable knowledge about how the physical world works. If limited to its proper sphere, science works. It is the belief that science is the only valid view of the world and the only legitimate means to acquire knowledge about reality which is based on circular reasoning. At a recent forum held in the UK a famous chemist/naturalist was asked how he knows that ALL phenomena can be explained by physical laws. After being re-asked a number of times and attempting to get around the question, in the end, this naturalist was forced to confess; to quote “I simply believe it is true.” In other words, the reason the scientific materialist knows that “We exist as material beings in a material world, all of whose phenomena are the consequences of material relations among material entities.” is because he or she assumes the conclusion before the investigation. This is a very slim basis on which to build a world view.
There are a number of reasons I simply have to reject naturalism as patently false. I will supply a brief list here without taking the time to provide my evidence for such reasons. I will leave to reader to decide the truth of these claims—each of which, if true, make naturalism patently and demonstrably false.
1. Morality is real. Some activities are inherently wrong.
2. The existence of good and evil is not just an epiphenomenon. Evil is real.
3. Justice is not just a concept. Some behaviors are just and some are not just.
4. A human life is inherently more valuable than that of a cockroach.
5. God exists.
6. The universe was created.
7. Life was created.
8. Beauty is real and not discoverable by any scientific means.
9. The Bible is inspired by God.
10. Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead.
This list can be made much longer. In the final analysis the concepts of right and wrong are not just a human invention. I have found that even those who claim that there is no right or wrong—no evil or good—are not consistent with their own belief. It is ironic to me that I have witnessed atheists expressing moral outrage over the things done by “religionists.” The naturalist may protest it is not true, but I say that “I” exist. I am not just a sack of chemicals moving around, with nerve synapses firing off according to patterns guided by my genetic makeup; determined by my environment. I am a person with a reality apart from my chemicals. I have a brain. I am not merely a brain. Naturalism is just plain not true.
Point number two of the argument for why naturalism is not a “good” world view: It does not answer any of the questions or solve any of the problems human beings really care about. Science is good at answering questions such as When? How much? Where? How long? It can answer provisional questions of why, such as why does it rain or why do stars form, but it cannot answer any of the fundamental/ontological/teleological why questions; even about the natural world. For example, science is not helpful at all for answering such basic questions as “Why is gravity as strong as it is,” or “Why does the electromagnetic force exist,?” or “Why does the universe exist?” If science cannot answer these questions, it certainly cannot even hint at an answer to a single one of the questions people really care about (as listed above) such as: “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?” “Does God exist?” “What happens to me when I die?” “How should I act?” “How should I treat other people?” “Why is it possible for humans to understand how the universe works?” “Why is there evil in the world?” Bottom line, scientific materialism does not even give wrong answers, it gives no answer at all to these questions (There is one exception. Science provides an answer to the question What happens when I die? The “scientific” answer is that life simply ends and entropy takes over.) It says that these are nonsense questions. My experience tells me that ignoring important questions and pretending that difficult problems do not exist is a bad way of dealing with such questions and problems. I do not mean to imply that Naturalists do not ask these questions or that they do not on an individual basis try to help solve some of the important human problems. It is just that their world view is not at all helpful for these things.
The third criterion from my personal list of qualities which make for a “good” world view is that holding to this view of the world must cause a person to be “better” than he or she would otherwise have been if not holding to this world view or if holding to alternative world views. Admittedly, this criterion is fairly subjective, but there are a number of measurements of goodness to which virtually all humans would subscribe. I believe that Naturalism is not a good world view if judged by this criterion. Let me state before entering this area that I have a number of friends who are naturalists. This is only “natural” because I am a scientist by profession. Some of my scientific materialist acquaintances are rather arrogant and hold to ethical and moral ideas with which I cannot agree. However, others have strong ethics and are some of the nicest people I know. No world view has a corner on the goodness market, including the one I hold to.
With this qualification in mind (and please do not forget it!), let us consider the motivation for doing “good” under the Naturalist world view. In theory, the Naturalist believes that there is no purpose to life and no inherently correct morality. Even ethics is extremely difficult or impossible to derive from this world view. Like I already said, some materialists do good deeds. If so, it is probably not because they are motivated out of their world view. Something else must be operating here. As my good friend Robert Kurka has said the materialists “hijacks” his or her morality and ethics from the Christian world view.
At the risk of offending some, I will make a bold statement here. I believe that scientific materialism is potentially a dangerous world view. According to this view, human beings have no definable value, except as a source of genetic material for subsequent generations. Of course, the vast majority of atheists are not violent people and value human life, but there is no moral imperative against murder or rape or robbery or any other of activities that the Christian and other world views hold to be morally wrong. Where does one find the moral compass? Any category of sexual behavior is acceptable as long as no one is hurt. Lying may be advantageous to survival and therefore “good.”
A lot of evil has been done in the name of religion. Anyone who denies this is not looking at history or is altogether denying the existence of evil. The difference with the Christian world view compared to that of Naturalism, however, is that a Christian who is prejudiced or who lies or who wages war on another for reasons of greed or power is violating his or her world view and is subject to being shown to be doing wrong. There is accountability and justice under the Christian world view. To the Christian there is an imperative to help our fellow mankind. Jesus commanded that those who follow him must “Do to others what you would want them to do to you.” Such altruism flies is the face of Naturalism as a philosophy. In the Christian world view, as exemplified by its creator Jesus Christ and as taught by its scriptures, there is a strong imperative to love others, to be honest, to serve others, to shun violence, greed, arrogance and so forth. Many Naturalists follow a strong and admirable personal ethic, but what is the imperative toward these “good” behaviors under the Scientific Materialist world view? If there is one, I have not yet seen one, although some materialists have made the attempt.
Having admitted that much evil has been done by believers, let us consider the small but significant number of societies which have publicly avowed an atheist or an anti-God world view. Examples of this sort which come to mind are France immediately after the French Revolution, Communist Russia, Communist China, Cambodia under Pol Pot and North Korea. Inspection of this list of regimes speaks for itself. In each of these societies individual souls were treated as if they had little value, with tragic results. The empirical fact that a societal commitment to belief in no God has such a poor record in producing human good is not proof that it will never do so. However, the track record is something we should not ignore.
What about justice and human rights? In the United States, many subscribe to the idea that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal.” Does this idea come from scientific inquiry? Based on their DNA, some are more fit than others. The Christian ought to believe that all humans are infinitely valuable as they are created in the image of God. I am happy to report that almost none of the Naturalists I have met are racially prejudiced. Hopefully the scientifically-inspired Eugenics movement in the early twentieth century will remain an anomaly, but what is the inherent source of human dignity and value if, as Huxley said, “man was made flesh by a long series of singularly beneficial accidents.”?
To summarize, the committed Naturalist believes that the only truth in the universe is that which can be discovered by the scientific method, through experiment and rational analysis of the information derived from empirical evidence. This world view fails miserably at the three criteria proposed in this paper for deciding what world view is best. Its support is circular and its conclusions are patently false. It cannot answer the most important questions or solve the fundamental problems that human beings care about. It does not, in and of itself, tend to cause those who hold to it to be “good.” I believe that the Christian world view is vastly superior to Materialism on all these counts and, for that matter, on any other reasonable measure I have seen of what makes for a good world view.
New Age and Eastern Religion/Philosophy
We have already considered the definition of world view and why the consideration of world view is important for the believer, and for the non-believer for that matter. We also considered the world view of Naturalism or Scientific Materialism, the implications for humanity and whether it is a “good” world view. In this section we will look at the view of the world which is held more or less in common by peoples in the East (generally cultures in Asia) and their close cousin, the New Age Movement.
It may seem presumptuous to describe in fairly simple terms the world view of nearly half the world’s people. If we include the population of India and China alone, this accounts for about 2.4 billion of the roughly 6.5 billion people in the world. Obviously, we will be painting the world view held to by the world’s Hindus, Buddhists, Sikkhs, Jainas, Taoists and Confuscianists with a broad brush. To include the modern-day New Age movement in this group is to make the brush stroke even broader. Yet, the world view held by the followers of these religious ideas is so radically different from that of the Christian, that even such a broad description will tell us a lot about how people from the East think about the world.
The Eastern world view is essentially pantheistic. This is a gross simplification and the nuances will be discussed below. Nevertheless, this description will be very helpful. The pantheist sees God as being coextensive with the universe. Pan means all and pantheists believe that God is all and everywhere. This is not a personal god at all. If the pantheist is right, then we human beings are part of God. We cannot have a relationship with God because we are God. The goal of the pantheist is to be swallowed up into the ineffable, all-pervading god-essence of the universe. The pantheist believes that the physical world around us is an illusion. The word used for this concept in both Hinduism and Buddhism is maya. The physical reality is a shell to contain the cosmic oneness. Buddhists, Jaina, Sikks and Hindus have a rather complicated cosmology. They believe that reality exists on many levels or planes, and we are on one of the lower of these planes. This is the common Eastern cosmology. Our goal is to get to a higher level of reality where the spiritual is more real and the physical reality is less pervasive. Ultimately, the goal is to lose self and to be swallowed up into the all-pervading goodness.
If the Eastern idea is right, then our goal is not to know and have a personal relationship with God outside of us, but to discover the God-nature inside of us. The search for God is essentially a search within ourselves. It is literally a selfish journey. We find Brahman, the ineffable expression of God, and a state of bliss known to the Hindu as nirvana by finding atman (soul) within ourselves. I have been using the Hindu way of describing things as this is the most common of the Eastern religions, and because it is the essence of New Age religion.
The Buddhist idea has much in common with Hinduism, but of course much is different as well. The Buddha gave his followers a philosophy; the eight fold path for right living. The four “noble truths” of Buddha are 1. Suffering is not getting what one wants. 2. The cause of suffering is desire which leads to rebirth. 3. The way to end suffering is to end desire, and 4. The way to the end of desire and of suffering is the eight-fold path. Buddha taught dispassion rather than compassion.
Gautama refused to address the God question with his believers because he felt this was not particularly relevant. One gets the sense that the Buddha was not an atheist and that his concept of God was pantheistic. His religion included the concepts of maya and reincarnation.
The Jain and Sikh religions can be thought of as flavors of Hinduism. In fact, Sikhs tended to consider themselves a sect of Hinduism until fairly recent persecution and British tendency to define things from a Western perspective defined them as a separate religion. Both religions retain the multiple level cosmology, but reject the highly structured priestly caste system. Jainism is thoroughly pantheistic. Sikhism and Jaina include the belief that physical reality is an illusion (maya), reincarnation and a karmic thinking about “sin.”
As for Taoism, this Chinese-born Eastern religion, founded by Lao Tzu, retains a strong pantheistic view of the world. Enlightenment is gained by contemplating self and nature. Like Buddhism, we come into contact with our cosmic nature through non-involvement in the world. Dispassion rather than compassion is the key to enlightenment.
So, what is New Age religion? Is it palm reading? Channeling? Seances? Meditation? Reincarnation? Occultism? Gurus? Paganism? Gnosticism? Mother Goddess worship? Yes, all the above, but in its essence, it is Western pantheism. The common thread in the rather eclectic beliefs of New Agers is that you are God, I am God, we all are God! It is monism. God is everything and we are God. To quote a well-known New Age author, “Once we begin to see that we are all God, then I think the whole purpose of life is to re-own the God-likeness within us.”
Let us analyze this world view. Is it a “good” world view? Let us apply our three-criteria. Is the Eastern/New Age world view true? It will be very hard to give a fully satisfactory answer to this question in a short essay. Put it this way, the cosmology of the Eastern religions, with its endless repeating cycle of creations and destructions, and with its multiple levels of reality is not true. Material evidence for the big bang seems to preclude this cosmology. The second law of thermodynamics does not allow for a cyclical repeat of cosmic history. The eastern mind believes that this universe is not real. Some have tried to tie the twentieth century discovery of quantum mechanics, with its probabilistic view of physical reality and its discovery of the uncertainty principle as evidence that the Buddhist cosmology is valid. The problem is that science definitely assumes that the universe is real. In fact, the scientific materialist believes that the physical universe is the ONLY reality. Unlike the situation between science and Christian theology, there is an inherent and unresolvable conflict between science and Eastern cosmology. The physical world is very real. We will not help solve the problems in this world by pretending that it is not real (and that the problems themselves are therefore not real).
It is debatable whether science can help settle the question of whether “God” is pantheistic and impersonal or theistic and personal. Nevertheless, we can ask what is the evidence supporting the central claims of Christianity and those of various Eastern religions. Christian belief has the advantage of scripture with fulfilled prophecy, verifiable historical accuracy and much more. The scripture of Eastern religions is entirely lacking in such logical/rational evidential support. In fact, one cannot even find apologists for these religions as a rule. Rational “evidence” seems to be nearly immaterial to these beliefs.
Does Eastern religion answer the important human questions? The answer is yes and no. It certainly does better here than scientific materialism. Eastern religion provides possible answers (whether right or wrong) to questions such as “What is ultimate reality?” “How did I get here and where am I going?” With other questions it is less successful. What is the nature of external reality—the world around us? The eastern believer says that it is not real. This is not helpful. What is the solution to the problem of evil? How do I become righteous? Eastern religion provides unhelpful answers. Suffering is not real, sin does not exist (unless one allows for the idea of karma which has as much or more to do with the actions from supposed past lives as with our own life).
Are the practitioners of Eastern religion or philosophy better people for holding to these beliefs? If we compare to atheism or agnosticism, the answer surely is yes. With their idea of karma and ideal of becoming one with the pantheistic universal soul, surely the devoted Buddhist or Hindu is more likely to be peaceful, patient and possessed of a sense of responsibility for the consequences of his or her actions than the average non-believer. However, there are some weaknesses here. Like the New Age philosophy tells its believers, sin, if it exists at all, is the lack of personal understanding that you are God. Hindu thought does include a measure of personal responsibility for sinful acts, but it also includes the possibility of “atoning” for sin in this life in some still future life. It also carries the responsibility for unknown past lives into the current incarnation. Surely this weakens the sense of personal responsibility for our own actions in this life, at least for the average believer.
The Eastern world view has one looking inward, not outward. It inspires dispassion rather than compassion and disinvolvement in the world rather than involvement. I am not saying that Sikhs are completely unloving. Obviously there are many loving and giving Taoists. However, these religions teach that suffering is not real. I have traveled to India as well as Buddhist countries such as Cambodia and Thailand. It is not an accident that a majority of the organized benevolent programs in Hindu and Buddhist countries is done by Christian groups. This is not just an accident and it cannot be fully explained by the wealth in Western countries. The pattern of “Christian” benevolence is repeated in the small Christian communities in these countries. The native Christian groups do more than their share of meeting the needs and creating social justice in these countries. Julian “the Apostate,” the pagan grandson of Constantine noted of the Christian in the Roman Empire, “Atheism (i.e. Christian faith) has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.” This criticism of Julian’s own pagan religion and compliment of the Christians of his day apply quite well to the situation in countries where Eastern religion predominates. Why? Because these are bad people? No. To a great extent it is because of their world view.
On a personal note, when I came to a belief in God while in college, I was initially strongly attracted to Eastern religion. I became involved in a Western-style eastern mysticism, read Hindu scripture, became a vegetarian and tried to find God in this way. In the end, I was attracted to Christianity because of the love I saw in devoted Christian lives and because of the evidence which so strongly supported Jesus being the one and only Son of God.
To summarize, the essence of the Eastern world view, and that of its many Western incarnations such as New Age believers is pantheism. It is a belief that the universe is filled with an impersonal god-force, a spark of which is in us. The physical world is an illusion, sin is not real, and the human problem is to escape from the passions which trap us in these physical bodies. The reader will have to decide whether this world view is attractive, but from my perspective, this is a defective world view. It is defective, first of all, because it is not true. The evidential support for this view is not strong. In addition, I am not attracted to this world view because its essence is selfish. I am attracted to a view of the world which calls its adherents to seek social justice and to show compassion for those less fortunate than them.
The Christian World View
Thus far we have looked at Naturalism, Eastern religion/philosophy and its cousin, the New Age philosophy/religion. Having defined these world views, I attempted to evaluate them with respect to the proposed criteria for a “good” world view. Obviously, this treatment is not comprehensive. We have not evaluated the world view of the Postmodernist (which is, in essence, that no world view is “true”), Nihilist (which is somewhat closely related to that of the naturalist), or the Existentialist, the Stoic, dualist, neo-Platonist or of the Muslim. All of these, with the exception of the postmodern world view and Islam, can be seen as more or less closely related to the ones we have considered. Time and space are not sufficient for us to cover all of these in detail.
I will now return to Christianity. We will consider in much more careful detail what the Christian world view really is. We will also analyze this world view with respect to the three criteria I have been using throughout. Many Christian believers may think that the Christian world view is fairly obvious and for the seasoned follower of Jesus relatively little need be said about it. By way of response, let me say that one point of this series of essays is that it is essential for those of us who seek to influence our neighbors to have a solid and deep understanding of both our own and of competing world views. I will make the claim that many Christians do NOT have a sufficiently deep understanding of the world view which they ought to have if they accept, by faith, the biblical view of the world. I make this statement because as I have traveled around the world to visit more than one hundred churches in dozens of countries, when I ask some rather basic questions about things such as predestination, natural and special revelation, salvation, the cause of suffering and so forth, the answers show a rather disturbing lack of understanding of who the God of the Bible is.
Of course, some will ask “Which biblical world view?” In other words, some claim that there is more than one world view found in the Bible—that one has to choose which of these competing views one will take to be the actual biblical/Christian world view. This is another question which deserves careful and systematic response. Let me say for the sake of this essay that I personally completely reject this view. Although I will not take the time to support the claim at this point, it is my conviction from careful study of the biblical scriptures over thirty years that there is a single, consistent, non-contradictory world view and picture of who God is. The God of Genesis is the God of Isaiah is the God of John and of James and Paul.
So, what is the Christian world view? I will attempt to describe it by a series of propositions, each of which will be expanded somewhat, using biblical passages by way of support.
1. The physical world is: a. real b. created out of nothing (ex nihilo) and c. essentially good.
Genesis chapters 1-3 is in my opinion the most brilliant little piece of philosophy I have ever read. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). As the Hebrew writer put it, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” If this statement is true, then animism, polytheism, pantheism, dualism, naturalism, nihilism, and postmodernism are all proved untrue. Just as significant to the Christian world view is this: not only did God create the physical universe, but this creation was essentially good. The way God puts it in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Eastern philosophy has the physical world to be an ephemeral illusion. Greek philosophy agrees, adding that the physical world is decaying and essentially evil. Naturalism agrees that it is real, but denies that there is a supernatural reality which created it. It certainly is not “good,” as such a description in meaningless in a random accidental universe. When God says his creation was good in its entirety, this does not deny the existence of evil. The question of evil will be addressed below.
2. There exists a parallel unseen spiritual reality which is not limited to or defined by the physical reality. Human beings have a spiritual aspect to their nature.
The fact that God, one who is “invisible,” created the universe establishes that there is a non-physical reality which is at least in some sense greater than the physical. The physical universe is real, but it is not all there is. Jesus confirmed this idea. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) Acknowledging that there is a spiritual reality is not the same as dualism. Dualism has the world being governed by more or less evenly matched forces of good and evil. It is also not naturalistic monism, which denies the existence of spiritual reality entirely. We have a soul and a spirit. That we are created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) is a spiritual rather than a physical claim. It is not a statement of our equality with God, but rather a description of our spiritual nature. I have a body, but I am not a body. “I” exist, and “I” am not defined by the chemicals which compose my body. Consciousness is not a mere epiphenomenon as naturalism requires. Our God-likeness has to do with our spiritual nature, our possession of a soul, our inherent understanding of good and evil, our ability to create and to love.
3. The creator of both the physical and spiritual realm is the God who is revealed and who reveals himself in the Bible.
Not only did God create the physical universe (Genesis 1), he also created the spiritual—the heavenly realms. In Colossians 1:15-16 Paul says of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers of rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. God has made himself known to his people “from what has been made.” (Romans 1:20), but he has also revealed himself and his will in the Hebrew and Greek scripture. Most particularly, he has revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ; the image of God. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2). No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son who is at the Father’s side, has made him know.” (John 1:18) God has revealed himself to us through creation, through the Old and New Testaments and through the person Jesus Christ.
4. Human beings have both a physical and a spiritual nature, but the spiritual nature is more essential as it is eternal.
Our physical nature is obviously more apparent to us than our spiritual nature, but this fact is deceptive when compared to our ultimate reality. Like Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.” (Luke 12:4-5) As Paul put it, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)
5. God cannot be easily defined but he can be characterized by certain qualities. God is love, God is just, God is holy, God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.
What God is he is fully and infinitely. God is not merely loving: he is love. Love defines and determines all his actions toward us. From a human perspective, this seems to conflict with his justice and his holiness. God is not merely just: he is justice. He is incapable of an unjust act, even if we feel his love and his justice are in apparent conflict. God is holy, in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). These are facts about God. How does this affect our world view? In every way. Every act in our life and in the lives of our neighgors is subject to the justice of God. This has a profound effect of how we view our own lives and how we should respond to injustice. “Do not take revenge,… ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” If God really is love, then this has an unfathomable effect on how we understand the events which surround our lives. All of them are either caused or permitted by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God who acts toward all out of love.
6. Although all God’s creation, including the physical world is good, evil does exist. Such evil is the result of freedom of will given to created beings and their subsequent decision to use that freedom to “sin” (defined as transgressing the will of God).
This brings us back to Genesis. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of us. God gave us everything for our pleasure and enjoyment. Why? Because he loves us and because he wants us to love him. But what did we all do? We rebelled and chose to do things which are unholy. As Augustine put it, evil is not a thing in and of itself. If it were, that would be dualism. Rather evil is good which has been corrupted by free moral agents. Something which was created for good purposes is turned for evil. Nothing God created is evil, but some of what God created is capable of doing evil. God gave us a choice. He asks us to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19), but many of us choose rebellion. The physical laws which are discoverable by science are not the only “natural laws.” There are moral laws as well, and they are as inescapable as the law of gravity. Rebellion against God’s holiness produces suffering in this world (Exodus 20:5-6), both on those who sin and on those around them. This is the answer to the “problem” of pain, suffering and evil.
7. Because of God’s justice and his holiness, those who choose to rebel against him will ultimately be judged and separated from God for eternity.
Not only does our choice to rebel and to sin bring on temporary physical and emotional suffering in this life, it also brings judgment in the world to come. “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10) “’The Lord will judge his people.’” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31). God cannot be mocked. He is patient and kind, and he wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), but “the wages of sin is death.” Again, as with all the qualities of God, this fact is unavoidable. God does not change or compromise his holiness. It has been said that God does not send people to hell, but he accepts their choice to rebel and be eternally separated from him.
8. The solution to evil and its eternal consequences is provided by God through the atoning substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
This is the essence of the gospel. As was prophesied, “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) “By his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5). “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). God’s holiness and justice were not superseded or violated in this substitutionary death. “He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26). Biblically, this is a theological fact. How does this affect one’s world view? If this is true, then everything is different. Suffering makes sense. The existence of evil makes sense. Our innate and universal sense of justice makes sense as well. Yet, we can live as free men and women, not using our freedom as an excuse to do evil, but using this gift of freedom to love and serve others (paraphrasing Galatians 5:13-15) without living in constant fear of judgment when we fall short, as we inevitably will do.
Is This a “Good” World View?
In describing the Christian world view, some might choose to emphasize certain points more and others less than I have, but this seems to reasonably well summarize how the Bible describes the world. Having done this, we will now proceed to do the somewhat subjective job of asking whether, by the criteria described above, this is a “good” world view.
Is it True?
First, is it “true?” By this I mean: Is this world view consistent with what we know? I am not asking whether we can provide a mathematically precise, scientific, logical “proof” of the truth of the biblical world view. This is obviously not possible.
Is the physical world real? I will challenge the post-modernist or the practitioner of Eastern religion on this question. I say it is real. A wise Christian philosopher once challenged his Hindu friend to prove his own confidence that physical reality is not real by allowing him to strike him with a club. The guru politely declined the opportunity to show confidence in his own philosophy. Science has shown that this “illusion” is surprisingly, uncannily consistent and predictable. Fantasies and illusions are rarely so predictable. Our naturalist friends may be out on a limb when they say there is no evil and no justice, but surely they have it right in this. The physical world is real.
Is the physical creation good, as claimed by the Bible? Given the existence of disease and natural disasters it certainly is reasonable to question the claim that physical creation is “very good” as God says in Genesis. My response is that creation is very, very good. Physicists tell us that the universe we live in is absolutely, spectacularly fine-tuned so that advanced life forms can exist. If any of more than two dozen parameters which define how the universe functions were changed by even a small fraction, we would not be here. To avoid the obvious implications, naturalists have speculatively proposed there are an infinite number of universes, and we are lucky to live in the right one. Lucky indeed! Suffering brought on by earthquakes may be troubling, but without plate tectonics (and their associated earthquakes) the earth would be sterile and we would have virtually no atmosphere. Bacteria cause disease, but without this marvelous creation we would have no nitrogen in the soil and no oxygen in the air. God’s creation is spectacularly wise and good. To those who do not agree, I challenge them to conceive of a better set of working physical laws and then to bring their conception into existence.
Is the physical reality the only one, or is the Biblical world view correct when it describes a co-existent spiritual reality? This is harder to prove. Yet there are a number of things which are true which point in this direction. We are self-aware. We are “conscious.” We are able to understand the universe. Humans have a seemingly universal sense of what is right and moral. The universe itself exists and was created. All of these and many more point toward a non-physical creator and a non-physical nature for human beings. Naturalists may choose to dismiss the reality of beauty, of love, of natural human rights, of conscience (not to be confused with consciousness), of good and evil and many other things, but very few people can really accept that these things are not real. Their existence implies there is a spiritual reality. Perhaps it is true that the majority does not determine truth, but very few believe they are a body (rather than they have a body) and the vast majority of all who have ever lived agree that there is a spiritual reality. The biblical view that there is a spiritual reality which supersedes the physical agrees with what we know.
Is it true that evil exists? And if so, what is the cause of this evil? Whether or not North Korea, Iran and Iraq were, in fact, an axis of evil as George Bush claimed is debatable, but the existence of evil is hard to deny. Sexual abuse of children, murder, genocide, warfare for selfish ends, corruption, greed—all of us recognize that evil is very real indeed. Ignoring this fact is a poor way to make it go away. Even arrogant atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, while denying the existence of evil wax poetical in complaining about the evil done in the name of religion. The Bible claims that God did not create evil. Like it says in James chapter one, those who sin should not claim that God is tempting them because God does not tempt us to do evil. Evil is the result of those who choose to rebel against God’s laws. Until someone can legitimately show to me that anything God has done is evil, I will stand by the claim that creation is good and that evil in this world results from the corruption of what is good by morally free agents.
The reality of God’s judgment on evil and his grace and mercy for those who repent is proved by the history of Israel. The support of this claim would require much reference to history, quoting from biblical prophecy and description of historical foreshadows in the Old Testament. I have published a book on this subject for those interested in pursuing it further (From Shadow to Reality www.ipibooks.com). God told his people in Deuteronomy 28 that if they did not obey the Lord and carefully follow his commands, he would drive them to a nation unknown to them—that they would suffer at the hands of their enemies, and would be scattered among the nations. They did and He did. God judged his people at the hands of Assyria and Babylon. He also told them that if they were to repent, even if driven to the farthest part of the world, he would bring them back and bless them in the land he gave them. They did and He did as he had promised. He provided Cyrus to set his people free and send them back to build Jerusalem. The story of Israel is the story of rebellion and judgment, followed by repentance and salvation. Rebellion produced slavery, but when God’s people cried out for mercy, God always sent a savior to save them—whether the savior was Joseph, Moses David or Cyrus. Jonah’s rebellion brought on the sentence of death, while his repentance led to salvation. God prophesied that salvation will come through one who will be pierced (Isaiah 53:5) and through one who will be crucified (Psalms 22:16). He even predicted that a savior would come to Jerusalem to atone for wickedness in about AD 30 (Daniel 9:24-25 and see my book Daniel, Prophet to the Nations). That God will judge his creation for wickedness and that he will provide salvation through the death of Jesus Christ is difficult to prove mathematically, but the history of Israel and fulfilled prophecy makes the reality of this claim a reasonable conclusion.
Is the Christian world view true? What I can say with confidence is that it agrees with what we know to a degree which is demonstrably much greater than any competing world view.
Does it Answer the Questions People Care About?
Second, does the Christian world view answer the questions people really care about? How did I get here? (God created us) Where am I going? (to eternal honor or shame) What is my purpose in life? (to know God and be known by him) What is my value? (Jesus gave his life for us) What is my relationship with the ultimate reality? What is the right thing to do? Why is there evil and suffering in the world? Why is it that we exist? Why is it that we can understand the universe? All of the great questions of life are answered in the Christian scripture. The Biblical world view addresses the problem of sin (Romans 7:24-25). Not only does it tell us why there is suffering, it also tells us what to do about it (Matthew 9:35-36). The Biblical world view even makes sense of death. “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-56) The objective truth of all these biblical answers is something which can be debated. Some might call all this wishful thinking. What cannot be denied is that the Christian world view provides reasonable and satisfactory answers to every one of the important questions common to man. No other world view, be it human philosophy, Eastern religion or any other comes close.
Does Acceptance of This World View Make Us Better People?
Previously I addressed the question of whether alternative world views make one a better person. Each world view has at least some things which commend it. However, in every case, we were left with serious questions. Naturalism denies the existence of absolute moral truth. Like postmodernism it leaves us without a standard for how we should treat one another. Eastern and Greek philosophy deny the goodness of the physical creation and teach dispassion rather than compassion. Muslim theology, with its emphasis on fate and predestination removes human responsibility for our fellow humans to some extent. Let me state my conclusion on this question right at the start. I can say with great confidence that both in theory and in practice, the Christian (and the Jewish) world view is superior to all others in its effect both on humanity as a whole and on individual people.
In the Christian world view every single human being has an unlimited value. The Son of God died to redeem us individually. All people are of equal value and importance in the eyes of their Creator, even if we are given different roles and gifts. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28) Looking from our Western perspective in the 21st century, it is difficult to grasp how radical a statement this was in the 1st century. If one investigates history, one will discover that it was Christian ethics which led to the idea of individual human dignity and human rights. Where did the idea that “all men were created equal” come from? Of course the Bible was way ahead of the framers of the US constitution on this one, as full and equal rights were not given to slaves until 1863, and to women until well into the twentieth century. Slavery had been an ever present institution from the dawn of human history. It was men and women, acting out the Christian world view, who turned this upside down. William Wilberforce was not alone in pushing the abolition of slavery because of his Christian convictions. Jesus Christ was a revolutionary in the way he treated women, the poor, the diseased, the deformed and those not of his nationality.
Of course, Christians are not the only good people in the world, but it is worth asking where humanists, atheists and others got their ideas of what is “good.” Is it possible that they hijacked it from Christian ideas? History certainly hints at this conclusion. Jesus said that the entire Law is summed up in the command to love God and to love one another as oneself. This idea of the centrality of our need to love and be loved comes from the Christian world view. Why? The reason we were created is because of love and for love. According to the Christian world view, we are valuable beyond comparison. Jesus implied that a single soul is more valuable than the entire world (Luke 9:25). This world view gives the individual person unimaginable dignity, and calls its believers to pour their life out in love to others. It is the best of all the competing pictures offered by religion and human philosophy in the positive effect it has on those who accept it.
The Christian world view tells us that suffering is not inherently evil. In fact, suffering is good for many reasons. It makes us stronger, it helps us to understand and experience joy. When we suffer because of our own sin, it trains us to change, it helps us to know Jesus, and when we respond to suffering in a godly way, it allows us to glorify God. So suffering is not evil, but the Christian world view nevertheless impels believers to respond to suffering with compassion. Why? Because of love, of course. James tells us that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27). “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me? Declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 22:15-16)
Jesus was perhaps the most compassionate man who ever lived. “Jesus wept.” (John 35) Why? Because Lazarus had died? No, as he was about to raise him from death. He wept because Mary and Martha wept. “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.” (Matthew 9:36). Like I already said, Christians are not the only loving people in the world, but when they are selfish, greedy or arrogant they are violating the direct command and example of the founder of their movement. I have visited Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim countries. In most of these countries, the Christian groups, even though a small minority, do most of the benevolent work in these societies. Why? They act this way because of the Christian world view and the personal example of Jesus of Nazareth. Besides, those who accept the Christian world view believe that they will be held accountable for putting its tenets into practice. Accountability can be powerful motivation. Other religions either tell us that suffering is an illusion or that it is God’s will. Does accepting the Christian world view cause one to be better for it? The answer is that if it does not have that effect, then we can be sure the Christian world view was in fact not accepted by the person. I do not want to disrespect any world religion or philosophy and I know that many who accept these as their world view are sincere and want to do right. Besides, there is at least something to be commended in all these philosophies, but the example of Jesus, the teaching of Christianity, the world view of the Christian and the facts of history lead me inexorably to the conclusion that of all the well-known world views, the Christian one is by far the best at making its believer a better person by almost any accepted measure. Why? Because the basic ethic of this world view combines great personal dignity with love, unselfishness, and unstinting service for others.
Have Christian believers ever violated the ethic implied in their world view? That is an easy question. Yes. Has evil been done in the name of Christianity? Yes, but such acts are certainly not inspired by the life or teaching of Jesus. Those who divide, hate, steal and abuse the poor and needy are by that very action rejecting the Christian world view.
The Christian world view is superior to all others on many grounds. First, more than any other, it is consistent with human reality. Second, it provides rational, reasonable and helpful answers to the important human questions, and third, those who take this world view not only as a philosophy but as a way of life are made to be the best possible human beings that they can be. Let us accept, embrace and teach the Christian world view with the authority of its creator and greatest example, Jesus Christ.
 James W. Sire, TheUniverse Next Door (InterVarsity Press, 1997)
 There has been considerable debate about whether the Nazi regime was atheist or Pagan or agnostic. Some have even tried to place it in the Christian camp. Because this is debatable, I have left Nazi Germany from the list.