Embracing Human Frailty

The Richard Dawkins Foundation thinks calling humans sinful is a sign of religion’s backwardness. It’s not – it’s an indication of Christianity’s insight.

A few days ago the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science posted this photo to facebook:

I came across it when an atheist friend reposted it along with disparaging comments such “as far as I am aware, scientists do not currently have a reliable assay to measure “fullness of wonder”, or “potential for greatness.”

Apart from this rather apt criticism, I’d add several others:

1) Religion and science are not mutually exclusive
2) There is not one single thing called ‘religion’ “according to” which certain things can be true. There are religions plural that believe just about anything you can think of.
3) That said I’d struggle to think of a religion according to which she’d be worthless.

But saying this feels like a dodge on my part. The people who wrote and posted that photo apparently take a parochial view that sees all faiths as being like the evangelical protestantism prevalent in the US. However, as an evangelical (of sorts) Protestant I suppose I still have a case to answer.

Central to our theology is the notion that none of us can save ourselves and must instead rely on God’s mercy. The implications of this for humanity are indeed not terribly flattering. But I am not convinced we should be flattered.

Some of the terrible statements religion is apparently making about this little girl are almost certainly true. For example, I am sure she will go on to do many “sinful” things (according to whatever moral standard one uses) throughout her life. In this regard of course she is just like the rest of us.

And while ‘dumb’ is a word few if any believers would choose, we should acknowledge that there are limits to what we know and indeed what any of us may ever know.

However, Christianity’s realism about human nature does not make it a nasty or a bleak doctrine. On the contrary, the fact that we are all sinful forecloses the possibility of being judgemental: there are no good people to chastise the worthless wretches. Jesus himself warned about trying to take the splint out the eye of another without dealing with the log in your own.
And the Christian message is a profoundly hopeful one that emphasises God’s love and the possibility of repentence. Jesus after all came to save us, not to punish us.

So a more accurate photo would have that little girl holding up a sign saying that “according to Christianity of a Protestant variety I am
– made by God in his own image
– loved by God despite my imperfections
– saved by a God who chose to die on the cross rather than see me die
– valuable beyond comprehension: just like the rest of humanity


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