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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Responding to Atheist Critiques of Christian Hypocrisy

In his paper "The Plight of the New Atheism: A Critique", Dr. Gary Habermas notes that some atheist criticisms of cultural Christianity should be addressed and not dismissed. One that he points to specifically is the charge that modern-day Christians like to cherry pick the causes they support. He explains how New Atheist Sam Harris "asks why Christians expend so much energy opposing abortion, stem cell research, and extramarital sex resulting in AIDS, while ignoring much of the greater amount of suffering in the world (p. 26). Or, he asks why Christians sometimes resist a vaccina­tion program for papillomavirus (HPV) on the grounds that this disease is an impediment to premarital sex, instead of being more concerned about the 200,000 people who die of this virus every year (pp. 26-27)."1

Later, Habermas answers Harris’ questions, explaining:
Even Christians sometimes resonate with atheists when it comes to complaints about the behavior of religious persons, all the worse when it is Christian behavior, and when the result is the unjustified taking of lives down through history. Therefore, whether it is the Crusades, religious inquisition, witch trials, or other opposition such as the fighting that afflicted Ireland in recent years, I think Christians agree generally that such actions are despicable. They would certainly agree with atheists that there is no place in the world, either, for Muslim suicide bombers and other unjust attacking of Christians and Jews, as well as other Muslims. Sure, the issues are complicated, but the bottom line is roughly the same. There is no need to belabor this point.

I have also indicated above that I think Sam Harris raises particularly good questions regarding Christians who pick and choose which pro-life issues should be supported and which should be ignored. I have for many years asked my students why widespread famine throughout the world often has been largely ignored by Christians until just recently, and still by far too few believers. Incredibly, these are often the ones that claim far more lives!

I hasten to add here that, in my opinion, the proper evangelical response is not to jettison current pro-life stances, but to get radically involved with the ones that we have ignored for far too long, such as worldwide hunger. Thankfully, evangelicals do a much better job with worldwide relief efforts after natural disasters, whether it was hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or tsunamis on the other side of the world. Still, I think that, generally, Western Christians are still far too materialistic and far too unwilling to share more than a pittance with those in need. Radical teachings such as those by Jesus (such as Luke 10:25-37; 12:33-34; 14:33) and others (such as 1 Tim 6:8-10, 17-18; 1 John 3:16-18) need to be heeded and taken in all their literalness.2
I think Habermas is onto something. As Christians we cannot simply talk about things like our objection to same-sex marriage without also discussion the problems such as no-fault divorce, which has caused infinitely more damage to the sanctity of marriage than the former. We must look at our worldview as just that and get involved in every level. Then, excuses like Harris’ objection will lose all potency and the world will be a better place.


1. Habermas, Gary R. "The Plight of the New Atheism: A Critique." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51.4 (2008): 817. Web. 16 June 2015.
2. Habermas, 2008, 819-820.


  1. It's because we, Christians, are more concerned with our relationship with God and with matters that relates to sinning against God. As our Lord said "Seek ye first the kingdom of God..." One of our main job is to 'preserve' the world. But of course, I also believe that we should also be concerned with our neighbor, as this is the second most important commandment of God.

    1. It isn't caring about your relationship with god first that is the problem, it is caring about other peoples relationship with god and trying to force the Christian worldview and way of life onto everyone else. If Christians would stick to themselves there wouldn't be the religious based problems that so many people focus on these days, at least concerning US politics.

    2. You should seek first to be a good human being by helping out your fellow humans and making the world a better place. The rest of us don't give a shit about what imaginary friend you want to talk to in your head, we just want you to hush up and keep it at home, like anything else that should be private.

    3. It all misses the point entirely. Jesus Christ's disciples are called to PREACH THE GOSPEL. The rest is icing.

  2. Anonymous9:00 PM

    I *DO* discuss no-fault divorce, and pre-marital sex, as well:

    But you're right, most Christians stay clear of them. Great post.

  3. Anonymous9:01 PM

    I do talk about no-fault divorce, as well as hooking up and premarital sex. Here's a recent post:

  4. Is Mr. Esposito making the argument that many christians are hypocrites but everyone should ignore that because Jesus?

    The lack of evidence is a more galling problem that christians face than a mere multi-millennia worth of hypocrisy.

  5. I'm sorry, but this simply adds to the capitulation to anti-Christian bigots.

    We don't need to apologize for the Crusades before we've corrected the critic's incorrect view of history; it was a relatively small response to 600 years of Muslim invasion. Same with the Inquisition, which in 300 years did not kill nearly as many people as the event that probably provoked it, the Muslim sack of Otranto in Italy.

    But more than anything, we need not apologize for addressing the issues that are brought to us by the culture. The reason--really, the ONLY reason--that Christians these days pay so much attention to homosexuality is that the culture at large is attempting to undermine our liberty using that issue as a wedge.

    Harry Stein, a New York writer and not an Evangelical, observed that religious conservatives pretty much kept to themselves in American culture until political liberals decided to force them to live by their sensibilities. We owe nobody an apology for defending ourselves.


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