In the midst of the high octane culture wars of the last ten years, Christians have been labelled all sorts of things: intolerant, bigoted, arrogant, narrow, dogmatic, just to name a few.
But, one noteworthy word stands out. Christians have been labelled haters. Despite the fact that Christians are to be known by their love (John 13:35), it seems the world often associates us with hate.
A couple observations are worth noting about this phenomenon. First, this sort of accusation against Christians is, at its core, a moral objection. Rather than the standard historical or logical objections often leveled against the faith, this one is fundamentally about ethics. It is claiming that Christian behavior violates some moral standard that all should follow.
In other words, the claim isn’t merely that Christianity is false, but that Christianity is bad.
Of course, such an objection raises a number of intellectual challenges for the one making it. After all, one can’t accuse Christians of violating moral norms if there are no such things as moral norms! So the one making this claim must explain where moral absolutes come from, and how they know what they are.
Needless to say, that’s not an easy task for the average postmodern thinker who decries all absolutes, and is typically agnostic or atheistic when it comes to the existence of God. In order for the accusation to stick, such a person would have to actually become the very thing they are against, namely a person who is dogmatic about the truth of their own beliefs.
Perhaps there’s no greater irony than a person complaining about moral dogmatism by making claims that are morally dogmatic.
But there is a second observation to be made, namely that such accusations are far from new. It’s easy in the heat of the current cultural moment to think that our situation is unique. No Christians have ever faced what we face, we might think.
But, that’s simply not the case. Christians in the early centuries faced precisely the same accusations, and often much worse. Let me offer just two examples: Pliny the Younger and Emperor Nero. [Read more…]