Comparing Christianity and Secularism

In an chapter in Passionate Conviction, which is a superb collection of essays, Craig Hazen argues that, among all the great religious traditions in the world, Christianity is the best place to start a search for truth.  He offers four reasons:

1.    Christianity is testable.  In particular, Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 15 that the truthfulness of the entire religion is dependent upon the historical occurrence (or lack thereof) of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  By contrast, many other major world religions (like Hinduism and Buddhism) focus on inner, personal experience.

2.    In Christianity, salvation is a free gift from God.  No other religion offers such a deal: God does the work of salvation at tremendous personal cost.  We are invited to benefit from the work God has already done.

3.    In Christianity, you get an amazing worldview fit.  Specifically, he unpacks both the seriousness and the hopefulness with which Christianity handles the problem of evil, pain and suffering.  Many Eastern traditions place these experiences in the category of illusion.

4.    Christianity has Jesus at the center.  On the face of it, this is the most initially offensive reason.  But Hazen shows that “Jesus is without doubt the closest thing the world has to a universal religious figure.  Almost every religious tradition wants to claim Him as its own in one way or another.”  Many Hindus consider Jesus to be on of the ten avatars of Vishnu, many Buddhists see Jesus as a great bodhisattva, the Dalai Lama has praised Jesus as being superior to himself, and the Qur’an lists more special attributes of Jesus than it does for Muhammad.

I find this to be largely persuasive in setting Christianity apart from other world religions.  But when I set it side-by-side with a broadly atheistic story or worldview, I think the cultural power of secularism is evident:

1.    The truth claims of science are testable.  In particular, we don’t have to settle for outdated dogma, but are unshackled to believe whatever the data shows to be true.

2.    In science, there is no wasted energy given to pie-in-the-sky thinking.  We can focus on our actual human experience and maximize the lives we happen to be living through the use of technology and other means.

3.    With science, you get credible results with none of the contentious and incomprehensible theology of religion.  If it works, great.  If it doesn’t, keep trying until you find something that does.  Scientific advances have done more to mitigate human suffering than religion has.

4.    Science has reason at the center.  To many people, this seems like a far better focal point than a historical person who is difficult to access.  The many cultural and linguistic and interpretative hurdles that separate us from Jesus can make him seem like a poor model for the present day, which has vastly different challenges than thouse of poor Jewish peasants of the first century.

These are the kinds of claims we need to weigh against one another in a comparison of Christianity and secularism.