Watching several debates over the last few years has been very informative, particularly when it comes to the persistent and formalized allegations against people of faith. Most of the debates I’ve watched have pitted atheism verses theism as the two opposing parties fend for one position or another before an intellectually hungry audience.
The allegations are always the same, “Religion is responsible for the greatest atrocities of human history and therefore,” so goes the argument, “all religion is bad.” In fact, you don’t even have to attend an academic debate to hear the same assertion. Ask your supervisor or your co-worker as I did not long ago, and you’ll often hear the same thing. “Religion causes most of the conflicts around the world,” they’ll parrot, as if religion is the culprit and as if by avoiding taking religion so seriously, the world would be a much better, i.e. peaceful place. Answering such an allegation, however, isn’t that difficult. In fact, pointing to the fact that atheistic regimes have killed and oppressed exponentially more people than religious folk says it all, but we still have evil and war. So what is the problem?
The problem may not be “obvious” to some; but I think the issue warrants more thought than most give it. Perhaps the first thing we should do, if possible, is find a common denominator. Religion can’t be the common denominator because atheists have killed their multiplied millions as well. So, just what is it?
The one common denominator, the most basic reason for war, without any further explanation at this point, is the inherent evil, i.e. sin, within us. Sin is such a part of our being that to deny it is to deny the obvious. G.K. Chesterton was once asked by a distraught letter writer, “Mr. Chesterton, what is wrong with the world!?” Chesterton wasted no time and responded with the simplest of responses, “I am.”
Even the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, an agnostic at best, chimes in on the basic condition of the human heart as well. “The trouble is,” he writes, “our aggressive instincts seem to be encoded in our DNA…unless we can use our intelligence to control our aggression, there is not much chance for the human race.” (Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays 137) While Hawking would probably take issue with defining the problem as “sin,” he does concede an inherent and universal problem that threatens our very existence if not resolved.
The problem is universal, inherent and recognized by the “brainiest” among us. It seems that this common denominator suggests that we as human beings are “broken” and no answer, at least judicially and/or politically, is available. That is where the biblical account of the Fall comes in. It explains the origin of our deep-rooted problem and defines it as sin. Our historical separation from our creator at the historical Fall had some very logical fallout. As a result, we are now at war with God, with ourselves and with our fellow man. We want our autonomy from God and it comes with a great price. War seems as natural to human nature as talking, and the common thread that links it to every era, including our own, is the inherent, universal and deep-rooted sin nature.