This past week, a debate from a cable talk show managed to trickle into the headlines. It involved Ben Affleck (I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading here), Bill Maher, Sam Harris, Nicholas Kristof, and Michael Steele. The debate took place on Maher’s HBO television show.
The controversy is over Maher and Harris’s criticism of Muslims and the contention that liberals do not criticize Islam enough. At one point Harris complained that the criticism of the “doctrine of Islam” should not be “conflated with the bigotry against Muslims as people.” And then there is what I believe to be the best sound bite of the entire conversation. Harris said, “We have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas.” This drew fire from Affleck and the others who condemned the comment as racism, but it is hard to look at the extremes we can see in
Islam today without thinking that it is full of bad ideas.
One must separate himself from personal concerns to objectively analyze the ideas of religion. Do they promote the welfare and flourishing of humanity? Do they answer the deepest questions of our hearts? Do they explain where we come from and where we are going?
The apostle Paul recognized the importance of the ideas of Christianity. He wrote to the Corinthians,
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
Because he believed that the ideas of Christianity had not originated from man but from God (1 Cor. 2:10-13), Paul knew that he could destroy the strongholds of false doctrine and lies. He knew that his mission was one of propagating ideas, God’s ideas.
I believe the Christian faith is the truth. For that reason, I must be well acquainted with it in order to win souls for Christ. Our appeal is not based upon emotions or style. It is based on ideas from heaven, the kinds of ideas that change lives.
But don’t mistake Christianity for just a set of ideas. What makes Christianity stand out from every other world religion is that it is founded upon events and a person. Centuries ago, a man named Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of humanity, was buried, and rose to live again. His disciples watched as he ascended into heaven while promising that he would return in the exact same manner. Because of those events, we wait for him. In the meantime we preach ideas.