This is an excellent interview with Ravi Zacharias posted in Enrichment Journal, the blog of the Assemblies of God.
Defending Christianity in a Secular Culture
Attacks on Christianity and the church are rampant in today’s society. Unbelievers once revered the church and its teachings, but today they scorn them. Films such as The Da Vinci Code and organizations such as The Jesus Seminar attack the credibility of Jesus and the Bible. But how do Christians answer these attacks on Christianity?
Few are as familiar with these attacks as is Ravi Zacharias, president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. For 36 years, Zacharias has traveled the globe debating atheists, defending Christianity on secular campuses, and proclaiming the truth through his daily and weekly radio broadcasts.
Zacharias talked with Enrichment journal’s Associate Editor Richard L. Schoonover and discussed some of the issues facing culture and the church today and how pastors and their congregations can respond to these attacks.
What is destroying the moral and spiritual foundation of today’s society?
Zacharias: I believe a convergence of many factors has taken place. Much of education in the 1960s came unhinged from any moral absolutes and ethical values, to wit the book, Excellence Without a Soul, by Harry R. Lewis. We have seen this happening the last 40 years. There have been many voices alerting us to this. But more than just a philosophy took over; a mood took over.
First, secularization generally held that religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations have lost their social significance. People liked the idea of a secular society and a secular government. But in terms of moral values and ethics, they never checked into the internal assumptions of secularization that made it wide open to almost any view on any subject. Beginning in the 1960s, the moods of secularization ultimately led to society’s loss of shame.
Next is pluralization, which sounds like a practical and worthy idea; and in many ways, it is. In pluralism you have a competing number of worldviews that are available, and no worldview is dominant. But smuggled in with pluralization was the absolutization of relativism. The only thing we could be sure of was that all moral choices were relative and there was no point of reference to right and wrong. This resulted in the death of reason.
Last is privatization, which is an accommodation to the religiously minded. If secularization and pluralization were going to hold sway, what does society do with the large number of people who are spiritually minded?
Being spiritually minded was okay as long as people kept their spiritual beliefs private and did not bring them into the public arena. The irony of this was the fact secularization — which had its assumptions on absolutes and anything of the metaphysical nature — was allowed into the public place. In fact, its very trust was to bring it into the public place. But anyone who believed in a spiritual Essence, an Ultimate Reality, and the fact there were transcendent absolutes that needed to be adhered to was told to keep those beliefs private. That ultimately paved the way for the loss of meaning.
These three moods — secularization, pluralization, and privatization — brought about loss of shame, loss of reason, and loss of meaning. How was this authoritatively pontificated in the social strain? This is when philosophy stepped in, the moralizers against morality came in, and political correctness came in. These gave society some parameters that allowed it to expel the moralizing from outside the secular realm.
As a result, everything became pragmatic. Philosophers and naturalists stepped in. In this new century, we have lost all definitions of what it means to be human, and what sexuality, life, and the home are all about. We are on the high seas, battling the storms of conflicting worldviews without a compass.
A shift is taking place in today’s society toward Christianity and the church. Explain.
Zacharias: The shift that is taking place is very calculated. Eastern religions are protected in today’s society because to critique Eastern religions is seen as culturally insensitive and prejudicial. But the Christian faith, which is the target of Western culture (but people have forgotten that it came from the East), is now the dartboard. Society can attack any aspect of Christianity.
In the recent presidential primary race, it was fascinating to notice how pundits described Mike Huckabee as a former Baptist minister. They described Mitt Romney as a Mormon whenever he would represent his religious faith. It is fascinating that the media, in a calculated way, does not mention Barack Obama’s middle name — Hussein — lest society see this as religiously prejudicial toward him. This is a clear attack on the Judeo-Christian worldview, the only worldview that could justify the existence of a nation like America.
The Judeo-Christian worldview is the target of the Western media. The media is the single greatest destroyer of the notion of absolutes and of the Judeo-Christian worldview. When I am overseas, I see these attacks in articles in the Western newspapers and in the journalism on television.
I just returned from Thailand and Singapore. Every mall I walked through in those countries was playing Christmas carols. One of the world’s tallest Christmas trees was in Central World Plaza in Bangkok, Thailand. Christmas trees and Christmas decorations filled the streets of Singapore and carols were playing there. In America, Christians wonder whether they can even do this anymore without someone questioning whether they ought to acknowledge Christmas in the marketplace.
What has happened? The Judeo-Christian worldview has become the pariah stepchild of worldviews and is being attacked while other worldviews are respected, reverenced, and recognized as part of history and the culture of other nations.
What is the basis of this calculated attack?
Zacharias: I am not sure I can pinpoint it, but I think the symptoms of cultural decay were clear from the 1960s onward — changes in beliefs regarding sexuality, and the right of a child to live in its mother’s womb. Those in the forefront of popularized Christianity took on these issues. These Christians were then attacked because society viewed them as inhibitors to progress and the freedom of other worldviews.
The media does not realize how inhibiting some Eastern religions would be if they held sway in our society. For some reason, they think Christians are fair game, and they can attack the Christian worldview.
Another reason for this attack is the conflicts that came on the moral landscape. Those who questioned this moral degeneracy were seen as coming from the Judeo-Christian worldview, and they had to be silenced. Allah, Samuel Harris, and Daniel Dennett were saying that inhibitions and prejudicial views on sexuality have come to us from the Christian worldview. Therefore, the Christian worldview is the enemy to be taken out.
There seems to be a proliferation of books and movies, such as The DaVinci Code and organizations such as The Jesus Seminar, that are attacking the biblical and historical facts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection? Why?
Zacharias: I do not think this is accidental, and I do not think this is the end. Some of these will come and die natural deaths. They carry a limited shelf life because people have tried these tricks before.
When philosophy and naturalism attacked the Christian faith and theistic worldviews in general, they started with an attack against the classical arguments of the existence of God. The cosmological argument — which argues from causality — states that everything that comes into being could not have caused itself, and had to have something else to cause it. But there cannot be an infinite regress of these causes. Ultimately, you must stop at one uncaused being. Since nothing physical in this world seems to be uncaused, the only way to have an uncaused being is for that being to be spiritual. The cosmological argument went in the convergence of other lines to prove the existence of God.
Suddenly, naturalists entered the fray and said, “Why does everything have to have a cause? Because everything has to have a cause, and itself would be the cause, therefore, it is self-defeating.” This is a complete misstatement of the argument.
No one has said everything needs to have a cause. What we said was that everything that comes into being needs a cause, and nothing physical is uncaused. Everything has an explanation outside itself. That is how the argument should go. But somehow, David Hume, and others in the 1700s, challenged the causality argument until people grew tired of hearing it.
Then, we have the etiological argument that argues not simply from design, but to design. Any time you see intelligibility, a specified complexity, or an intelligent effect, you assume it had an intelligence and a cause behind it. Then naturalists proposed a random, subatomic world, and argued against purposeful design. Thus, the design argument no longer works.
Naturalists, however, were not able to take on the moral argument. No matter how much they argued against it, there was always that sense of a moral impetus within humanity. People could not act as if there were no moral oughtness. But reason alone does not lead you there by the atheist’s own admission. John Mackie and especially Kai Nielsen, a well-known atheist from Canada, said, “You cannot really rationally argue for compelling moral oughtness in society. Maybe pragmatically, but rationally you cannot.”
So, the moral argument was a thorn in their side. How could they do away with it? If you can make a Jesus who is just like us and immoral, then that argument is buried, too.
Naturalists took on the cosmological argument. I do not think they did damage to it, but they think they did. They also think they damaged the etiological argument. They, however, could not escape the moral argument. So, books — The DaVinci Code, The Gospel of Judas, and The Gospel of Philip — came into vogue. These Gnostic writings were supposed to show that Jesus had some private moral issues. If they could sustain this perception, they could do away with the moral argument.
It is amusing that they never went to the Quran or the Gita to look for moral flaws in the key personalities represented there. They would have found enough ground to show what the moral problems were. Instead, they attacked the Christ of the Scriptures, who is so pure, so pristine, and so demonstrative of everything that is pure and good. The DaVinci Code taught that maybe Jesus had a secret life with Mary Magdalene. Some recent writings and recent findings have claimed more. If Mary Magdalene were everywhere these books claimed she was, she must have been superhuman. Otherwise, how could she be found in so many places at the same time?
Why is the deity of Christ under attack?
Zacharias: If people can devein the gospel concerning the deity of Christ, then they have taken the gospel away from us. If they can attack Christ and make Him look like whom they want Him to look like, then they are taking away the ultimate authority.