Dinesh D’Souza, the New Atheism, and Constantinian Christianity

Last week at the Innovative Evangelism Conference I got a chance to hear Dinesh D’Souza speak to a standing room only crowd. Many in the crowd were fellow evangelists, but there were a few seekers and skeptics present as well.
Dinesh D’Souza is a renowned Christian apologist known for taking on the proponents of the New Atheism (people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens). He’s also one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers.

Dinesh’s arguments from science and philosophy were well thought out. He addressed post-modern arguments against Christian exclusivism with sensitivity, breezed through the theodicy problem (the problem of why a good God allows evil to happen), and built a case for Christian morality without resorting to bashing heads with Bible verses. He even managed—rightly in my view—to avoid the trap of defending irreducible complexity as an argument for intelligent design. All things considered, I thought that Dinesh did a good job presenting arguments for the reasonableness of Christian faith. So why did I leave disappointed?

The weakest part of the presentation for me was when Dinesh defended Christianity against the charge that people in the name of Christ have committed some pretty horrific crimes against humanity, crimes like the Inquisition and the Crusades. Rather than renouncing the evil perpetrated in the name of Christ, Dinesh chose the standard apologetic response of stacking up the body count of crimes perpetrated in the name of Christ against crimes perpetrated in the name of atheism. The body count for the Inquisition? Four thousand. The body count for atheism? Millions. Christianity wins.

Not to say that there isn’t some merit to D’Souza’s argument mind you. It’s true that when you consider Lenin, Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot; the body count for atheism in the 20th century alone far surpasses the body count for crimes committed in the name of Christ. D’Souza also rightly pointed out that atheism—more specifically the Marxist brand—was crucial to the philosophies of these barbaric dictators as opposed to the supposedly religious conflicts that are often really about land and resource distributions (like the Catholic/Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict).

Leaving aside the potential counter-argument that Christianity has it’s share of religiously motivated wars as well (think—the 30 years war, the Great Schism) it’s at this point that a thinking skeptic could say, “Yes, it’s true that without religion there would still be wars over land, ethnicity and political philosophies, but the thing particularly dangerous about religion is that religion provides a transcendent source that allows people to dehumanize others with the approval of their conscience”—and the skeptic would be right.

This is why Jesus—not historic Christianity—should be the object of our apologetics. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus categorically rejected violence, nationalism, and the fusion of faith with earthly power, as did His followers for roughly the first 300 years of Church history. At around 325 A.D. the church and state developed a very cozy relationship under Constantine, producing what author David Bercot from Scroll Publishing likes to call the “Constantinian Hybrid.” It seems to me that in his counter-arguments to the New Atheists moral objections to religious faith, what Dinesh defended wasn’t so much Christianity, but Constantinian Christianity—the kind of Christianity that’s very comfortable fusing faith with earthly power.

Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not suggesting that Dinesh D’Souza approved of the Crusades and the Inquisition in his presentation. It’s just that something seems awry to me when a leading Christian intellectual has to tell his fellow believers that we should all be patting ourselves on the back because our predecessors haven’t tortured and killed as many people as the predecessors of other faiths and belief systems. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m not sure why a non-Christian should be impressed with that. It seems to me that once we accept Constantinian Christianity as normative, we’ve seriously lowered the bar. As a Christian evangelist, D’Souza’s presentation forced me to ask myself perhaps the toughest of all questions. To what degree does the Christianity that I’m preaching look like Jesus?

Posted on November 18, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. You just made the case as to why christianity is just another religion. Neither Jesus nor the apostles founded a religion called christianity.There is only the Lord and His word.Religious wars, or atheistic wars…sometimes there is no difference at all.

  2. Interesting thoughts Aaron. Thanks. Yes, the dominion of darkness is made up of all the kingdoms of the world(195 nations currently). None of these can be a part of or in partnership with the kingdom of God. When we learn that Christian participation in war is a result of mixing parts of the dominion of darkness (the kingdoms of this world) with the kingdom of God then we have a clear explanation of how things went wrong. When we realize that the kingdom of God is a real kingdom that remains separate and distinct from the world order around it then we see that when satan instigates conflict between two parts of his domain, this has nothing to do with citizens of the kingdom of God. I hope Dinesh can read your book and study David Bercot's materials.

  3. Thank you Chris. Well said.

  4. I see the point , and agree with it.But I believe you miss some of the reasoning for Souza's comments. And other examples of all of us can be applied to your lesson . I know I have been guilty at times of trying to defend God , and having the advantage of God Living In me not shown that mercy and kindness in the process. An example just recently reading comments where your blogs are sometimes printed on God's Politics , the fact that Souza was conservative drew extra criticism for being so. And on this religious left's blog just before a person was defending the left wing view on politics and the dehumanizing of other faith Groups as justified because organizations like Focus On the Family do it too . I would take from what you were trying to say that because some do it , that does not mean Christians should defend doing it . But the lesson you were teaching seem to get lost on the evil conservative Christian , instead of taking what you said into all our hearts . Souza was doing what I believe we find what one of King David's men tried to do when he physically steadied the Ark because he thought it was going to fall off the wagon . God struck him down , which is the sin I believe is what Souza was trying to do , defend God. God does not need our help , but I do believe I understand Souza and why he felt compelled to defend Christianity in our changing culture where believers are often stereotyped to be, well how they are shown to be uneduacted ,bigoted , racist etc. Being a new convert later in life I was amazed in how Christians attack Gods people also , you would think your sermon would be a way to open our hearts , not to make out out like our hearts are better then others hearts. Anyway I got it. Thanks But I believe your sermon would be better suited if you took examples that were common in the faith group you were speaking to , I believe the church is better off when we look into our own souls , not anothers , and confess our own sins . Thanks . Mick

  5. Thank you Mick. Your point is well said. We definitely need to look into our own hearts before we point out the faults of others. As to your last point, I've also challenged the religious left in some of my postings on the God's Politics blog. The editor at Sojo has been very generous in letting me speak my mind and challenging deeply held beliefs on both sides.

  6. Aaron,I can understand that Dinesh was simply turning his opponents argument around on him. But I also agree with you, as a Catholic myself, that Catholics have been lacking in imagination, not being able to imagine a Kingdom unlike any worldy kingdoms. Realize that the Pope condemned the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition. I can understand the Pope's temptation to respond to Muslim violence with violence. The alternative was the murder, rape and enslavement of his people. Realize also that the Church did not respond to Muslim aggression for 300 years, and after the Byzantines begged for assistance. As I said, I see it more as a lack of imagination. When the Church inherited the Roman Empire they could only imgine a Christianized empire and government. I also see it as a matter of evolution and maturity. Realize that there is only one Church and the Catholic Church is the Church of your Christian ancestors, even if they did later split to form their own sects.

  7. If anyone is interested in a slightly different focus in reviewing the book, the one I wrote may be interesting. It is in PDF format and may be viewed here:http://members.cox.net/lionel_mandrake/BookReview.pdf

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