Has Organized Religion Done More Harm or More Good?

Caryle Murphy 11:55 AM Welcome to On Faith’s first live online debate. Today we’re pleased to have with us noted … Continued

Caryle Murphy
11:55 AM
Welcome to On Faith’s first live online debate. Today we’re pleased to have with us noted author Susan Jacoby, whose latest book is “Freethinkers: History of American Secularism,” and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, flagship school of one of the largest religious denominations in this country. In a few mintues, they will begin debating the good and the bad of organized religion. Stay with us!

Caryle Murphy
12:02 PM
Hello Ms. Jacoby and President Mohler. Why don’t you chime in first, President Mohler. We presume you believe that organized religion has done more good than harm.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:04 PM
Well yes, and thank you for the invitation. I must say that I am no more qualified to speak of organized religion as a collective category than I could speak of organized education or organized politics. I can speak of Christianity and its contribution. Yes, I am confident that the Christian faith has done far more good than harm, to use your categories.

Caryle Murphy
12:04 PM
Ms. Jacoby?

Susan Jacoby
12:05 PM
And I think that talking about whether organized religion as a whole has done more good than harm is like being asked the same question about science. Which religions? When? There’s the rub. I certainly can’t say, for instance, that organized Christianity was doing more good than harm during the Inquisition. But there are other times and places.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:07 PM
There can be no question that Christians have often failed to live up to the teachings of Christ and the spirit of the Gospel. There are dark chapters in Western civilization, and since this civilization was, at least until recently, clearly identified with Christianity, we must share in the consideration of what was good and what did harm.

Caryle Murphy
12:07 PM
Let’s get specific on the good and the bad.

Susan Jacoby
12:08 PM
All right. Let’s get specific. During the long period from the early 1700s, when Christian slaveholders began teaching slaves about Christianity, until after the Civil War, southern Christiaanity was a pillar of slavery. That was certainly doing harm.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:10 PM
No doubt that southern Christians were not only complicit in the slave trade, but often ardent defenders as well. Beyond this, theories of racial superiority were rampant in the culture (look at Lincoln’s letters) and too many Christians shared in that as well. Nevertheless, the abolitionist movement was overwhelmingly Christian and the Christian arguments are what won the day.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:12 PM
The abolitionist movement in America was driven by Christian arguments about human rights, couched in the language of that day. This was even more the case in Britain, where William Wilberforce and John Newton used Gospel arguments to eradicate the slave trade.

Susan Jacoby
12:13 PM
With all due respect, Dr. Mohler, this is the sort of argument that defenders of religion always make You say that the abolitionist movement was “overwhelmingly Christian” and that Christian arguments are what won the day. The Christians in the north who were part of the abolitionist movemtn, like William Lloyd Garrison and Lucretia Mott, were virtually run out of town by the orthodox religious denominations. One of the greatest influences on Garrison, who was brought up a strict Baptist, was that freethinking heretic, Thomas Paine, who was an ardent opponent of slavery. You can’t say that “Christian” arguments won the day when most Christians in the North as well as the South, until th eve of the Civil War, were absolutely opposed to the abolition of slavery. The Bible told them so.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:13 PM
The modern concerns for human rights, the rights of women, and the protection of the vulnerable have been driven by Christian concerns and the belief that every single individual, male or female, is created in Gods image. This is a far more substantial basis for human rights than any secular theory.

Susan Jacoby
12:15 PM
Organized religion, all of it, was unalterably opposed to the movement for women’s rights in the nineteenth century, and again in the twentieth century. Religion, all of it, has been dragged kicking and screaming by women of faith who wouldn’t take no for an answer into the 21st century. The women’s rights movement was always, essentially, a secularist movement. It could not be otherwise, because all religions have historically justified the subordination of women.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:15 PM
There is no way that abolitionism in the North could have won the day unless the vast majority of Northerners ( who clearly considered themselved faithful Christians) believed that this was a cause demanded by the Gospel.

Susan Jacoby
12:15 PM
Andyou also think that religion was in favor of equal rights for women?

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:17 PM
Ah, just saw your question. There would be a debate about the nature of “equal rights” and what this might mean. I would assert without hesitation that Christianity, from its inception, has taught equal worth. Rights are a very modern concept,

Susan Jacoby
12:19 PM
Yes, rights are a modern concept. A secular concept that began with the Enlightenment. AndChristianity regarded “equal worth” as a worth that, in the words of Paul, admonished women to keep silent in the churches. Not what I call equal worth. And let us not only discuss Christianity in this regard. Historical Judaism also discriminated against women, and we know the asituation of women in most of the Islamic world today. Religion has supported equal rights for women only to the extent that it has been modified by secular knowledge.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:20 PM
The fact is that secularism and secularists emerge as cultural forces long after the road toward greater appreciation for human dignity and human rights had been started in the West. There was no secularist movement when the notion of individual rights and protections emerged in Continential law and British common law. These foundations were explicitly Christian. Christianity pervaded the worldview and nothing else was imaginable.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:21 PM
Well. we will just have to disagree about the Apostle Paul and his teachings. Just look at the way he praised women for their contributions to the church and its ministry. Many of the most positive and important references in Paul’s letters are about the women who were crucial to the work and witness of the early church.

Caryle Murphy
12:22 PM
Before we close, in a few minutes, I’d like to know if you both think that organized religion has lost some of its power because of the huge trend toward ‘spirituality’ as opposed to ‘religion’ and because of the proliferation of different religions.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:23 PM
The idea that equal worth means completely identical functions is foreign to the Christian worldview — but it doesn’t work among the secularists either.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:26 PM
Caryle, the issue you raise is very important. The shift toward individual “spiritualities” and a spiritual “quest” is a sign that Christianity has lost influence in the larger culture — no question about that. Of course, this is a great concern to me. As for the proliferation of other religions, I can only observe that the postmodern supermarket of faiths so evident in America doesn’t even come close to the diversity found in the Roman empire at the birth of Christianity. We have been here before — and the issue is Christian faithfulness in the midst of such diversity.

Susan Jacoby
12:26 PM
I wanted to ask Dr. Mohler if, as a Baptist, he thought Catholicism did more good than harm before the Reformation.

Susan Jacoby
12:29 PM
I just saw Caryle’s question about spirituality. I think that in America, organized religion has lost ground to a flabby “spirituality” that makes no real demands on people. As a secularist, I see this amorphous spirituality as another sign of the dumbing down of popular culture. No demands, no history, nothing except what you personally feel at a given moment.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:30 PM
Ms. Jacoby, I would not say that Catholicism did more harm than good before the Reformation. I would say that the Reformation was urgently needed and necessary. I am thankful that the Roman Catholic Church protected the orthodox teachings concerning Christ, the Trinity, and so many other doctrines — as well as the preservation of the Scriptures. Of course, as an evangelical Christian I differ greatly with the teachings of Rome, but, I must also suggest, that the modern foundation for human rights is impossible to understand apart from Thomas Aquinas and his impact, among others. There — how’s that for an evangelical saying the unexpected?

Susan Jacoby
12:31 PM
We could have a lively chat about Aquinas, I’m sure.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:32 PM
Now that would be fun, a secularist and an evangelical arguing over a Catholic theologian. Where else but “On Faith?”

Caryle Murphy
12:32 PM
I think we’ll leave Aquinas to another day. And bring today’s debate to a close. Last word from you both?

Susan Jacoby
12:33 PM
Religion has done a lot of harm and a lot of good. Like most human institutions. It would be doing much more harm today were it not reigned in by secular knowledge and in America–let’s keep it that way–secular government.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:34 PM
In terms of the impact of Christianity, my first and foremost concern is the impact upon the individual lives of those who have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But the fact is that these transformed lives have made an incalculable impact upon the world. The Christian church is not a perfect represenation of the Gospel — we are still sinners, though saved by grace. Secularists and others do us a favor when they point out our inconsistencies. This chat is a good start on a profitable conversation.

Caryle Murphy
12:35 PM
Thank you, President Mohler and author Jacoby.

R. Albert Mohler Jr.
12:35 PM
Thank you for the invitation — and thanks to Ms. Jacoby for the conversation.

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