Donall and Conall Meet Richard Dawkins

“Stop in the name of logic before you break my brain!”

Are Christians Fools? (1 Corinthians 3:18-20)


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Are Christians fools?

Critics of Christianity certainly think so.

In the second century, the Greek philosopher Celsus wrote that Christian evangelists sought to make converts of  “only foolish and low individuals, and persons devoid of perception, and slaves, and women, and children.”

In a story that ran in The Washington Post on February 1, 1993,  reporter Michael Weisskopf famously described politically conservative American evangelicals as “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”

More recently, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins – leading proponent of the “new atheism” and a self-described “Bright” – said, “The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.”

In my opinion, these quotes tell us more about the critics than they do about the criticized. Celsus was an upper-class bigot and misogynist to boot. The day after Weisskopf’s story appeared, the Post ran a correction saying, “There is no factual basis for that statement.” One wonders how Weisskopf’s whopper slipped past the Post’s fact checkers in the first place. And Dawkins? In his review of The God Delusion, philosopher Alvin Plantinga wrote, “You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores.”

And yet, if the Apostle Paul is to be believed, Christianity’s critics may be on to something:

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written [in Job 5:13]: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”;  and again [in Psalm 94:11], “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile” (1 Corinthians 3:18-20).

Does the Apostle Paul agree with Christianity’s critics?

From one perspective, Paul’s answer is most certainly “yes.” That perspective is “the standards of this age.” For Celsus, the standard was Greek philosophy; for Weisskopf, political correctness; and for Dawkins, evolutionary biology. Unfortunately, the standard shifts as the age changes, reminding us of the truth of Dean Inge’s statement: “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” Weisskopf and Dawkins don’t share Celsus’ classism and bigotry, thank goodness. Their egalitarian sentiments have been shaped, ironically enough, by the millennia-long leveling tendencies of following Christ, in whom “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).[1]

From another perspective, however, Paul’s answer is most certainly “no.” Christianity’s “cultured despires”[2] are wrong because their standards are wrong. And their standards are wrong because they take no account of Jesus Christ. Thus, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”

If you’re smart, be a fool for Christ.

[1] See David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale, 2009), for a historical argument to this effect.

[2] The term is Friedrich Schleiermacher’s, not Paul’s.

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