What's So Great About Christianity?

"Atheists have very clearly said that their goal is to go after our children." - Christian, and Domestic Policy Expert Dinesh D'Souza.
"Theology is not little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed it is ignorance with wings." - Author and atheist Sam Harris
"The cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be" - Astronomer and TV personality Carl Sagan

Is Christianity obsolete? Do the atheists have it right? Has Christianity been disproven by science, debunked as a force for good, and discredited as a guide to morality? Dinesh D'Souza looks at Christianity with a questioning eye in his book What's So Great About Christianity? in which he also treats atheists with equal skepticism.

Albert Mohler recently interviewed D'Souza about this book:

Albert Mohler: These are interesting days, the public airwaves and so much of the media context is now taken up with the discussion that has featured a great deal of what can be described as militant atheism. Whether it's Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or others, there is a new sense that a militant atheism is projecting itself into the public square. Dinesh D'Souza ... has written a new book entitled What's So Great About Christianity. Dinesh, why did you write the book, What's So Great About Christianity?

Dinesh D'Souza: Well, I've been, for 15 years, a secular writer. I've written seven books, but I felt that something new is happening today. That is, we're seeing for the first time atheism become a serious option for people and particularly for young people. A generation ago the poster child of atheism was someone like Madeline Murray O'Hare, or some ACLU lawyer-not a very attractive image for atheism worldwide. Now this atheism is coming out of the universities, they have scientific credentials, or like Christopher Hitchens, they're stylish, they're witty, and many young people are attracted to this kind of thing. I felt that it's important to have, if you will, a twenty-first century apologetic that took the atheist argument seriously-that meets it on it's own ground of reason and science and evidence. That's the goal of What's So Great About Christianity-to challenge atheism on its own terms and defeat it.

Mohler: I think one of the things you acknowledge in your book is that this new breed of militant atheists really looks at what they acknowledge to be the Christian foundations of civilization and argues that they are negative, evil, oppressive, intolerant, and as something we should simply repudiate and grow beyond.

D'Souza: Years ago Bertrand Russell, after he wrote his book, Why I Am Not a Christian, somebody asked him, "If you die and you find yourself before God what would you say?" And Russell, very pompously, said, "I would say, 'Sir, you did not give me enough evidence.'"So, this was the old banner of atheism-it claimed intellectual superiority, this sort of search for evidence. The new atheism, however, is also strangely clothed in the garb of morality. It accuses religion, and specifically Christianity, of being behind most violence and evil and war and suffering-and even terrorism in the world. This is atheism that is flying on the wings of 9/11. It demands a new kind of an answer.

Mohler: You talk about the global triumph of Christianity and the twilight of atheism. If atheism represents so few worldwide, why does it get so much attention?

D'Souza: It gets so much attention because it occupies very influential sectors of American and Western life. Atheism is strong in the universities, it is strong in the media, it is, perhaps, not as strong in politics, but because we have this notion of separation of church and government, the political square is dominated by ... secularists. They figured out a very clever con in which the religious people are driven out of the public square and the atheist idea of fairness is to have a monopoly of the public space. So, for all these reasons, we live in a culture that is publicly secular. If someone was to come from Mars and visit America, and walk around our public buildings, watch television, turn on the music, read books, you would have no idea that a majority of Americans are Christians. You would have no idea that you are in a society that is a Christian society.

Mohler: So when you look at that picture what would you suggest that Christians should do? Simply sit back and make observations about the growing secularism of the elites, or engage the issues?

D'Souza: I think we have a clear biblical mandate to be "not of the world, but in it." We are all told to love God not just with our hearts, but with our minds, and we are told to give the reasons for the hope that is within us. So, I think as Christians we should be in the culture, fully engaged. Not, if you will, conceding all this territory to the atheist because, let's remember, this is not just a debate about putting a monument in a public building. The atheists have very clearly said that their goal is to go after our children. In other words, they know that they have not won the battle for the current generation, but they are hoping that through the schools, and through the universities, as young Christians come into school, come into college-and remember, as in my case, when I went to college I was a Christian, but the Christianity I learned was very juvenile. You could call it Crayon Christianity, and so it was very vulnerable to skeptical assault. So, as Christians we are sending our children off and they are going to get a withering attack on their faith. We've got to prepare ourselves-even more important-we have to prepare them [our children]. We can't just prepare them with, ultimately, scriptural truth, we also have to prepare them with intellectual and moral defenses, so that they can fend off the attacks that will surely come.

Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine said:

“As an unbeliever, I passionately disagree with Dinesh D’Souza on some of his positions. But he is a first-rate scholar whom I feel absolutely compelled to read. His thorough research and elegant prose have elevated him into the top ranks of those who champion liberty and individual responsibility. Now he adds Christianity to his formula for the good society, and although non-Christians and non-theists may disagree with some of his arguments, we ignore him at our peril. D’Souza’s book takes the debate to a new level. Read it.”

On October 22, 2007 at The Kings College Dinesh D'Souza debated Christopher Hitchens under the question “Is Christianity the Problem?”

Dinesh D'Souza, a former White House domestic policy analyst, is currently the Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of What's So Great About America, Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, and many other books.

Is Christianity A Problem?

Posted November 24, 2007

The Death Penalty Saves Lives?

"Those who object to capital punishment, and who do so in the name of protecting life, must come to terms with the possibility that the failure to inflict capital punishment will fail to protect life.” - Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago and Adrian Vermeule, a law professor at Harvard.

In the November 18, 2007 issue of the NY Times Adam Liptak raises the question: Does The Death Penalty Save Lives? This is a particularly timely question in view of the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has in essence suspended all executions in the United States until the question of death by lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment can be decided.

Paraphrasing Adam’s article he writes:

According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death 3 to 18 murders are prevented. The studies, performed by economists, compare the number of executions in different jurisdictions with homicide rates over time and say that murder rates tend to fall as executions rise. “I personally am opposed to the death penalty,” said H. Naci Mocan, an economist at Louisiana State University and an author of a study finding that each execution saves five lives. “But my research shows that there is a deterrent effect.”

The studies have been the subject of sharp criticism, much of it from legal scholars who say that the theories of economists do not apply to the violent world of crime and punishment. The death penalty “is applied so rarely that the number of homicides it can plausibly have caused or deterred cannot reliably be disentangled from the large year-to-year changes in the homicide rate caused by other factors,” John J. Donohue III, a law professor at Yale with a doctorate in economics, and Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in the Stanford Law Review in 2005. “The existing evidence for deterrence,” they concluded, “is surprisingly fragile.”

“The evidence on whether it has a significant deterrent effect seems sufficiently plausible that the moral issue becomes a difficult one,” said
Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago who has frequently taken liberal positions. “I did shift from being against the death penalty to thinking that if it has a significant deterrent effect it’s probably justified.” Professor Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, a law professor at Harvard, wrote in their own Stanford Law Review article that “the recent evidence of a deterrent effect from capital punishment seems impressive, especially in light of its ‘apparent power and unanimity,’ ” quoting a conclusion of a separate overview of the evidence in 2005 by Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford, in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science. “Capital punishment may well save lives,” the two professors continued. “Those who object to capital punishment, and who do so in the name of protecting life, must come to terms with the possibility that the failure to inflict capital punishment will fail to protect life.”

To a large extent, the participants in the debate talk past one another because they work in different disciplines. “You have two parallel universes — economists and others,” said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment.” To economists, it is obvious that if the cost of an activity rises, the amount of the activity will drop. To many economists, then, it follows inexorably that there will be fewer murders as the likelihood of execution rises. “I am definitely against the death penalty on lots of different grounds,” said Joanna M. Shepherd, a law professor at Emory with a doctorate in economics who wrote or contributed to several studies. “But I do believe that people respond to incentives.”

But not everyone agrees that potential murderers know enough or can think clearly enough to make rational calculations. And the chances of being caught, convicted, sentenced to death and executed are in any event quite remote. Only about one in 300 homicides results in an execution. “I honestly think it’s a distraction,” Professor Wolfers said. “The debate here is over whether we kill 60 guys or not. The food stamps program is much more important.” There is also a classic economics question lurking in the background, Professor Wolfers said. “Capital punishment is very expensive,” he said, “so if you choose to spend money on capital punishment you are choosing not to spend it somewhere else, like policing.” A single capital litigation can cost more than $1 million. It is at least possible that devoting that money to crime prevention would prevent more murders than whatever number, if any, an execution would deter.

The available data is thin, mostly because there are so few executions. It seems unlikely,” Professor Donohue and Professor Wolfers concluded in their Stanford article, “that any study based only on recent U.S. data can find a reliable link between homicide and execution rates.” The two professors offered one particularly compelling comparison. Canada has executed no one since 1962. Yet the murder rates in the United States and Canada have moved in close parallel since then, including before, during and after the four-year death penalty moratorium in the United States in the 1970s.

“Deterrence cannot be achieved with a half-hearted execution program,” Professor Shepherd of Emory wrote in the
Michigan Law Review in 2005. She found a deterrent effect in only those states that executed at least nine people between 1977 and 1996. Professor Wolfers said the answer to the question of whether the death penalty deterred was “not unknowable in the abstract,” given enough data. “If I was allowed 1,000 executions and 1,000 exonerations, and I was allowed to do it in a random, focused way,” he said, “I could probably give you an answer.”

Is the death penalty a deterrent?

Posted November 18, 2007

God Is A Fundamentalist?

"The Mythos of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal. Logos was the rational, pragmatic, and scientific thought that enabled men and women to function well in the world. We may have lost the sense of mythos in the West today, but we are very familiar with logos, which is the basis of our society" - Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong is the author of nearly twenty books, including The Great Transformation, and The Spiral Staircase, a spiritual memoir. An internationally renowned expert on religion, Armstrong is a powerful voice for interfaith understanding.

Armstrong's latest 'bestseller' The Battle For God - A History of Fundamentalism is a highly readable account of how the world today faces a clash between religious fundamentalism and secularism.

Library Journal's review of the book said: Armstrong, author of A History of God and other books on the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions, writes very perceptively about the intense fear of modernity that has stimulated various fundamentalisms: Protestant, in the United States; Jewish, in Israel; Sunni Muslim, in Egypt; and Shii Muslim, in Iran. Each is ultimately modern in its attempts at converting mythic thinking into logical thinking and in its use of widespread literacy and the democratic ideas about individual importance that modernity fostered, but each is also at war with its liberal co-religionists and with secularists who "have entirely different conceptions of the sacred." Armstrong concludes that both sides--fundamentalists and secularists (including governments)--need compassion in order to be true to their own religious or humanistic values. The historical range and depth of this work, which transcends other treatments of the subject, make this highly recommended for all libraries.

Ray Olsen writing for Booklist commented: Combining synoptic and interpretive historical manners, Armstrong, author of the widely read and well-received History of God (1993), produces another splendid book that, for the considerable readership interested in religion, may prove to be a page-turner. The subject is fundamentalism in the world's great monotheisms--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Armstrong represents the dissimilar movements called fundamentalist as fearful reactions to modernity, especially the modernist predispositions for materialist reason and empirical evidence, which have increasingly encouraged denying the validity, or even the possibility, of truths expressed by the symbolic systems of religion. But, she maintains, these fundamentalisms are themselves typical products of modernity, for they tacitly accept the modern scientific devaluation of religious mythos by insisting on the literal truth of sacred writings, as in Christian fundamentalists' use of the New Testament Book of Revelation as a set of predictions of particular historical events and persons. Armstrong works out her interpretation by historically tracing the challenge of modernity and the fundamentalist reaction in the three monotheisms as parallel developments that span some 1,500 years. The typically modern pressure of politics upon religion began in the Middle Ages (Islam has never been free of it). A crucial date is 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella ordered the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from the first rational modern state, their united kingdom of Spain, even as they dispatched Columbus, probably a Christianized Jew, in the opening salvo of modern imperialism. Intriguingly, Armstrong says the modernizing process had been launched earlier in the century by the Inquisition--a statement provocative enough to current ideas of what's modern to hook many readers, none of whom will later be the least bit dismayed about having taken the bait.

At the end of the book are a series of fourteen discussion topics which arise from the book's theme and which should aid readers in formulating comments for discussion in this thread.

Is there a battle for God?

Posted November 10, 2007