Tag Archives: Christian apology

Book Review: “What’s So Great About Christianity” by Dinesh D’Souza

I don’t follow the news and I’m not plugged into current events.   So when I was assigned What’s So Great About Christianity by Dinesh D’Souza for a seminary class, I had no idea that the author had been convicted of a crime, pardoned by the president, and was shrouded in controversy.  It wasn’t until half-way through his book that I found out any of that.  I was enjoying the book so much that I decided to search the web for more his work to put into my reading queue.  Then the internet split open and his tangled history spilled into my lap.

One of the most pervasive evils of the present day is the “blame-splaining” phenomenon.  Instead of engaging with someone’s ideas, the tendency these days is to sidestep them entirely and point to a personal failure or professional blemish.  Or, even more commonly, to mine their work, dig up an old quote from years ago, and trot it out with no context.  This requires the intellectual acumen of a ten-year-old brat. 

There was a kid in elementary school who just couldn’t stand anybody getting a complement of any kind. He’d point out some flaw in the person or the product, no matter how minor.   I can still remember his freckled ten-year-old face saying “Well, it’s not perfect.”  

It is not a brilliant intellectual insight that nothing and nobody is perfect.  A nasty little ten-year-old kid knows that.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a drunk, but The Great Gatsby is one of the world’s greatest novels.  Louis Pasteur — who saved millions of lives by pioneering vaccination and pasteurization — performed clinical trials without a medical license and may have experimented on humans with inadequate scientific rigor. Sure, you can argue character and motives, but you can’t refute the quality of Fitzgerald’s prose or Pasteur’s science.  

Likewise, Dinesh D’Souza is not a perfect person, nor is he the cultural equivalent of Fitzgerald or Pasteur.  But his arguments in this book are generally sound.  He points out that Christianity is the source of:

  • Separation of church and state (“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” Matt. 22:21)
  • Functional atheism (the search for logical/scientific solutions before resorting to the supernatural)
  • Public service (“the last shall be first and the first shall be last” Matt. 20:16)
  • The quest for objective truth through science (Fr. Georges Lemaître first posited the Big Bang Theory which was strenuously resisted by atheist scientists who desperately wanted to support the steady state theory)

But I think he’s at his best when he’s myth-busting.  It was very refreshing to see a popular book refute the often-touted “fact” that Christianity is a source of strife, war and death.  He stresses that the real killer isn’t Christianity but atheism.

The three crimes most often alleged against Christianity, D’Souza points out, are the Crusades, the witch trials and the Spanish inquisition.  But the Crusades were a series of wars against the Turks who had invaded the Holy Land, which had previously held by the Byzantine Empire. Losses were great on all sides. This wasn’t a “Christian” war — it was just a war.  The European witch trials, from 1450 to 1750, claimed 35,000 lives over 300 years. At Salem only 19 were executed. From 1478 to 1834 the Spanish inquisition resulted in no more than 5,000 dead over 350 years.   The grand total for these tragedies: 40,000.  

Atheist regimes, on the other hand, were responsible for millions of lost lives in a single century.  Mao killed about 65 million, Stalin 20 million, Hitler 6 million, and Pol Pot another 2 million.  Grand total: 93 million.  Christians aren’t perfect. Fair enough — and about as valuable as any ten-year-old’s observation goes. But Christianity, through its charity, philanthropy and peace-making work, has clearly saved a thousands times more lives than it may have taken.

I enjoyed his book a great deal.  It was smoothly written, engaging, and well-constructed.  As for D’Souza’s personality, his character, politics, criminal record, and other works, I’ll leave those evaluations to other reviewers.

Mythbusting Anti-Christianity

I’m happy to engage anyone in conversation anytime. Please click here to schedule a meeting. I am here to offer pastoral care, intellectual conversation, interviews, and so on. As an interfaith minister and a seminarian in the Old Catholic line, the alleviation of suffering is my calling, and my duty is to be an apostle.

Unfortunately though, many people don’t want to engage. These trollsaggressive atheists, and anti-Christians — attack via social media. They’re only looking to get a rise out someone, and I can’t let them usurp valuable time and energy from people and endeavors which sincerely want and need my attention.

So I created this post so that I can refer these people here. I figure, if he or she is just a troll, this is my escape hatch. But if, by some chance, he or she is actually inquisitive, this will give him or her food for thought, and a deeper conversation can follow later.

(A) General Questions

  1. There is a 99.99% chance that you are not the first person in history to attack Christianity with the question, issue or method you are currently using.  Christianity has successfully defended attacks by very smart people for over 2,000 years.  This field of study is known as Christian Apology or Apologetics, and the Library of Congress lists over 5,000 books under this subject heading.  Start by reading some of the previous scholarship.starting with C. S. Lewis.  He’s the most famous and popular Christian apologist — an atheist intellectual who converted to Christianity and wrote about why.   
  2. “Why do we need religion? Why can’t people just be good because it’s the right thing to do?” Because people aren’t all that good, and it’s very hard to make them. There’s an enforcement cost that bogs down society in general and gives birth to totalitarianism. But you can inspire them to be good by giving them responsibilities. About 40,000 years ago humans starting working on systems called “religion” to arrive at and assign responsibilities so as to solve this problem.
  3. “If God is good, why is there evil in the universe?” This is called the problem of evil. There are lots of answers to this question. I like Christianity’s.
  4. “If God created the universe, what created God?” Depends on who you ask. In my opinion, the most solid Christian answer is that God is creation itself. He needs no bootstrap because He is both the Boot and the Strap.
  5. “How is Christianity any better than the silly myths that came before it?” The myths that preceded Christianity were low-resolution pictures of the truth that was coming, kind of like the way the icon of a disc on the desktop of your computer is a low-res representation of the hard drive in your computer. C. S. Lewis deals with this beautifully. If you can’t be bothered to read his work, get them as audio books.
  6. “What makes you think you’re so smart?” I don’t. But I do understand what it’s like to be confused about religion. I spent most of my adult life as a religionaut and spiritual seeker before finally re-embracing Christianity. I used to believe most of the anti-Christian myths myself. This allows me to be calm, polite, and measured. Anyway, I’m not that smart. I’m just a guy who made lots of mistakes, wasted a lot of time, and now wants to be a simple priest and alleviate suffering.
  7. “If God is real, why doesn’t He stop ______?” Fill in the blank with your choice of horrible tragedy, natural disaster or crime, such as death by hurricane or clergy sexual abuse. God is not responsible for human acts of evil resulting from free will, nor is He responsible for acts of nature. If people had no agency and there was no nature, the universe would be a giant depressing clockwork — static, rhythm-less and dead. Thank God it isn’t. Also see #3 above.

(B) General Christianity Myths

  1. Religions do not cause wars. Religion has been a factor in less than 7 percent of all wars and in less than 2 percent of all people killed in warfare.
  2. Miracles aren’t made up by crazy people. Things we can’t explain happen all the time. Ask anybody you know and you’ll get dozens of examples of spontaneous healing, freak events, and other improbable “coincidences.” If one in a million of them is “real,” there have been millions of miracles. C. S. Lewis wrote a book called Miracles that I highly recommend. If you can’t be bothered to read it, watch this video.
  3. Don’t say “It’s impossible for somebody to be raised from the dead, so Christianity is obviously made up.” Obviously it’s improbable, but not impossible. That’s why a religion sprang up around this one guy named Jesus who seems to have risen from the grave after three days. It’s also useful to note that the gospels don’t make it clear what exactly happened. In Mark, Jesus just disappears from the tomb and that’s it. In other Gospels he appears but the apostles don’t recognize him at first. What happened or didn’t happen isn’t all that clear. Most Christians understand that and are okay with it.
  4. God is not “the same as a flying spaghetti monster.” Billions of Christian believers over the last 2,000 years have not attested to the reality of a flying spaghetti monster. Would you convict someone of a crime based on eyewitness testimony? Then why not believe billions of witnesses of Christ? This is called the “argument from reason” and lots of really smart people seem to like it and/or have a hard time refuting it.
  5. Christians are not blind automatons. The word “Israel” means either “God struggles” or “to struggle with God.” Either way, Christianity is a conversation between God and humanity spelled out in 73 volumes.
  6. Christianity doesn’t owe its popularity to forced conversions. Isolated cases occurred. But, for the most part, people dropped pagan religions like a hot potato and picked up Christianity instead.
  7. Just because some Christians don’t practice what they preach doesn’t mean that Christianity stinks. Don’t make a short list of radical, stupid, and/or evil Christians and say “see, Christianity stinks.” This is the dumbest thing I ever heard. All doctors aren’t perfect, but we don’t give up on medicine do we?
  8. Christianity isn’t some childish belief system you can outline on a 3″ x 5″ index card and then poke holes in. Christianity has been developed by the the greatest minds of the last 2,000 years and the Bible is a library of books — books that are complex, universally relevant, inspirational and interconnected to a degree you cannot possibly imagine.


(C) Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse Myths

  1. Catholic clergy aren’t more likely to abuse children than other clergy or men in general.
  2. Clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church can’t be blamed on celibacy or homosexuality.
  3. Clergy abuse can’t be blamed on an all-male clergy.
  4. Almost all of clergy sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church occurred during the 1960s and 70s.
  5. Most clergy sex offenders aren’t pedophiles — most offenses were against post-pubescent teens.


(D) Christian Belief Myths

There are 2.4 billion Christians on the planet, belonging to hundreds of wildly divergent denominations. It is virtually impossible to make sweeping statements about what Christians do and do not believe.

  1. All Christians do not believe in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell.
  2. Furthermore, Christians do not agree on the definitions of certain key words, such as “salvation,” “heaven” “hell,” and so on.
  3. All Christians are not Bible literalists who believe Earth is only 6,000 years old, flat and other silly things.
  4. Christians are not generally motivated by fear of hell or promise of heaven. Salvation is achieved through some combination of either grace (a free gift from God) and/or works (doing good stuff in the world).
  5. All Christians are not fundamentalists.
  6. All Christians are not opposed to science.
  7. Most Christians do not hate gays.
  8. Christians do not despise the world and live for the next life to the detriment of this one. Despising the world is actually a pretty heretical belief in the eyes of most Christians. Probably the most famous Bible quote of all time is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NRSV)


(E) Bible Myths

  1. Most Christians — especially members of the clergy — don’t believe the Bible was magically written by God. Or even that it was written by the people two whom the individual books are attributed for that matter. That’s because…
  2. The Bible is not just “some old book.” The Bible is a library of 73 books, and it is an incredible feat. Somehow, thousands of authors, editors and scribes, working in different times across millennia, managed to bring together this library of books in such a way that the disparate volumes form a cohesive narrative structure. See the diagram below. The Bible makes something like Wikipedia look like a tri-fold pamphlet. You might even say that it’s a miracle.
  3. The Bible doesn’t promote violence, or misogyny, or any of that. It contains stories with controversial themes — kind of the same way that a documentary about drug addiction might show drug use without promoting it. And it contains all of the outdated ideas that we’ve improved upon too. The great thing about Christianity is that its definition of “good” has evolved over time because Christians have generally tried to be humble. God is the highest possible good, and beyond our comprehension. As our vision gets better, God and Good get better!
  4. People who study the Bible and think it’s important are not uneducated and/or backward. Most of the smartest people and greatest scientists of past and present were and are Christians. See references in previous section.
  5. Biblical laws were not and are not backward and draconian, nor are they evidence that Christianity is outdated and backward. The Hebrews were the first culture in the Ancient Near East to abolish physical punishment for property crimes, the first to establish a single code for all social stratum, the first to do away with divine kings, and so on. Compare the law of the Hebrews to those of their neighbors and you will see that the Hebrews’ are far more progressive. The philosophy that gave birth to those laws allows for the laws to be updated — see #2 above.
  6. Just because the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) contradict each other doesn’t mean that the Bible is a nest of lies. The founders of the early Christian churches were aware of the contradictions — they just didn’t care all that much. Apparently they were more open-minded that most people are nowadays.
  7. Biblical laws, rules and customs cannot be taken out of context and used to prove points. The Bible is a library of 73 books written across millennia that document the centuries-long struggle of Jews and Christians to figure out exactly what the laws and rules should be. Of course there are contradictions. Copernicus and Ptolemy contradict each other regarding the correct model of the solar system, but we don’t claim that Astronomy itself is invalid. Also, it’s useful to note that the book of Proverbs is not a book of religious laws. It is called Proverbs because, as it happens, it is a book of proverbs, which are genre of folklore. Why do uneducated people insist on attacking Biblical statements out of context? I don’t know. What if I did the same to them? How does this feel? “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” ~Proverbs 26:11


Introduction to the Hebrew Bible – Prof. Christine Hayes (RLST 145 — Yale Open Courses website)

Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature — Prof. Dale Martin (RLST 152 – Yale Open Courses website). [Note: If you think it’s important, which it isn’t, but you might think it is if you believe in common myths about Christianity, Prof. Martin is gay.)

The Hebrew Bible — Rabbi Shaye Cohen (Harvard 2013)

The Bible is the first hyperlinked document. Click graph below for more details.

Graph of the Bible’s 63,000 Cross-references