Religious identity in the light of the book, The Reason for God Belief in an Age of Scepticism by Timothy Keller


Society can be very lazy with identities and labels.  A child who is not even baptised can be labelled Catholic or Protestant just because her or his parents have a Catholic or Protestant upbringing.  It is an issue how religion forces membership on children usually by baptism.  The Catholic Church says that baptism register is only a register of who is baptised and is not a membership list.  In practical terms it is a membership list.  The doctrine says that God makes you his child and adopts you into his Church when you are baptised.  So the Church is lying to circumvent GDPR.  Interestingly canon law says it does not apply to you if you are baptised by a Catholic priest but raised Muslim or something else.  So there is no point when you are put under church law.  Catholic membership of the Church is thus only a social construct and a legal fiction.
Christian writers have expressed how today identity is idolatry or a kind of idolatry.  A person is taught to accept who they think they are when it may not be right at all.  A person is taught to choose an identity or just, "I can't help being me therefore I make it my own.  Choosing my destiny is still a choice even if I cannot control my destiny.  There is no choice as in once for all act.  A choice is an ongoing thing.  I have to choose my marriage every day after getting married."  Some worry how the identity that is chosen becomes something that nobody else is allowed to question.  This happens in religion though it is usually associated with those who identify as LGBT.

Let us examine a popular book, The Reason for God, that aims to show that the Christian faith is a good thing. If we can refute this book then there is no reason for anybody to consider Christianity.

We will take quotations and look at them.

Notice how Christianity tells everybody they are made for its version of God and that is their identity!  There is that and then you get a Christian identity if you respond!  So if you turn away from those you form a new idolatrous identity.  You will have more than one of these.

Social injustice arises when people love anything or any person more than God.  "If you love anything more than God, you harm the object of your love, you harm yourself, you harm the world around you, and you end up dissatisfied and discontent."  Keller claims there is "powerful evidence that the cavern in our soul is indeed infinitely deep."  So we not only need God but need him infinitely. We don't need him a lot or a great deal.  We need him 100%.  To try and deal with this by loving the wrong thing or the right thing too much (that is by not loving God enough and failing to love him completely) is to develop attachments. 

Keller agrees with ancient wisdom which says that love as in attachment is bad for it is getting attached to someone or something that will pass away while feeling we cannot live without that person or thing.  Notice that loving the thing would naturally be worse than loving the person.   Keller warns that loving in a detached way or finding happiness by being aloof makes you hard and selfish and will backfire and block your "need not only to receive love but also to give it." The only answer is to avoid love as in attachment and love as in detachment and the only way that can be done is by giving your love to God who cannot be lost or die or fade away. To love your baby or your family or whoever more than God is not loving them too much.  It is loving God too little and that is what makes it bad.

But we are told that attached love and detached love are both bad, rob us of joy, rob us of inner peace and do grave harm.  So the problem is that attachment is a sign that we are not really satisfied by the object of our love and so we suffer for it for nothing.  And we end up easily hurt.  Detachment makes us too callous and selfish.  They can lead to violence.  You easily fight for what you are over attached to.  You may kill others when you are detached from them and end up seeing them as mere objects.  But love has to be attached or detached and there are different degrees of each going on together at any given time.   That is to say that love has a bad side. 

Keller deals with those who think their "identity is simply an expression of inward desires and feelings."  He says, "No one identifies with all strong inward desires.  Rather, we use some kind of filter - a set of beliefs and values - to sift through our hearts and determine which emotions and sensibilities we will value and incorporate into our core identity and which we will not.  It is this value-laden filter that forms our identity, rather than our feelings themselves."  He says the filter comes from the people around us who we trust. The reward for letting them do this is to avoid the pitfalls of having a self-made identity.  It is depending on me too much which makes it too fragile and fickle. 

If it is that dependent on other people what if they are people of your particular religion?  That shows how immoral manmade religion is.  It will interfere with your identity by osmosis or force.  He is right that it is egotistical and deliberately misleading to claim you have to be yourself no matter what anybody else thinks.  Identity is about compromise he says.  You prioritise the different things you are and the qualities and goals you have.  We all do.  A lot of what is in us is from others so we cannot be an island and go totally our own way.  Others recognise the many identities you have - child, parent, driver, dog walker and so on.  That is where you get these identities from and nothing comes through pure self-recognition.

Keller says that identity is a problem when you make it about you for it leads to social fragmentation. And if your identity is too based on being in a community you will get oppressed.  His answer is to just drop both and be a child of God and you will be well self-integrated and well integrated with others.  It is not obvious how that is supposed to work!  Commonsense says that you must find the happy medium between being yourself and part of a community.  Rather than being all about asserting  yourself you must be about sacrificing yourself too.

Keller says that to fixate on anything good means "it will become you - the basis of your identity."  He says that if you do that you will fail to exercise your talents.  Because you are too afraid of doing something badly or not getting praise you will not carry them out well and will lack confidence in them.  It is like how if you make your relationship with another human being your very identity you won't be able to challenge their bad behavior in case they turn against you or criticise you or twist things.  The pain of their rejection or anger at you will be too much.

Is that the real reason why believers in God are not turned against religion and the idea of God by how much suffering happens?  There is no other way to make sense of how people who claim to hate evil do not struggle enough with this god who is responsible for it for he makes all things.  Christians fear not only the pain of feeling that God is against them but also fear how they will feel if they turn against God.  It does not make sense to turn against a creator even if he should be despised.  He is the strong one.

Keller explores how Augustine found that calling somebody a good person is not about what they believe or hope for but about what they love.  Augustine stated that all evil in humankind comes from a lack of love and also loving important things less than less important things.  That is a disorder.

But God is not an important thing and neither is loving him. Keller writes, "you are what you love."  If that is true, then the sinner and the sin cannot be separated so to hate the sin is to partly hate the sinner.  Love the sinner and hate the sin is just a polite way of being passive-aggressive and trying to feel you are too sweet to hate anybody.  Keller reasons from you being what you love that at any given moment you will love something and that is what you will act on.  It will make you act on it.  To love hurting a person will control you hurting them.  Love changes from moment to moment.

Keller says you love your work and that is fine.  It is not only not wrong but also good.  But it is bad if you love your work more than your family.

So how does a good thing become that bad and terrible just if you love it more than your family?  You love your family too just less, maybe a bit, than your work.  You can love your work most and still do right by your family and they are no worse off than if you loved them more than your work. Loving your work most is compatible with not hurting them.  Keller and the faith he speaks for are just judgemental haters.  

Keller suggests that the only identity that you can have that does not damage you or lead to others being crushed is making your love for God your identity.  You let God give you this identity so you make it all about him.  All that matters is is how God sees you.  Your identity is living solely to please him.

Keller declares that any other understanding of identity means it will be thought to change which is why people say the you of five years ago is not the you there is now.

But nobody seriously argues that you as your are today is a different person as in person from what you were twenty years ago.  They think at core you are the same.  Keller is trying to make you think you can fix your personhood by identifying as God's friend for God does not change.

Keller points out that selfish people may use a form of excluding others and creating an us versus them sort of outlook called dominance.  This is when you are allowed to live among them and have your ethnic identity or whatever but you are in an inferior place. 

There are certain benefits you do not get.  Catholicism does that by being nice to Protestants but not letting them enjoy its sacraments unless they agree with the Catholic faith. The dominant are giving themselves a sense of self at the expense of others.

Today, he writes, we are called on to get our own identity and not be taking it from "God, or family, or nation or some cultural configuration of all three". 

The cultural configuration could mean religion.

Keller says that you see yourself as a person with a religious or moral identity you will hate anybody who differs from you.  The more different they are the more you will wish evil on them.  Keller says that we want an identity in order that we might feel significant.

FI would add that we want it to feel understood and to let others think they know where we stand and how they stand with us.

Now he says that there is a danger with a religious or moral identity.  That danger is real and the identity corrupts.  To ask a person to have a strong religious/moral and I would add political identity is to cause them to hate.  The other problem is that the person who asks gets away with it. 

A religious or moral or political identity is a bit thin for it is clearly a human construct.  But if you think your identity comes from God that will enhance the evils that come with it.  God calls things what they are.  And you will blame God for the evil that you are led into by your sense of identity or you will say the evil is just collateral damage.

He refers to Nicholas Wolter who says that a human right comes into being when somebody engages with you.  You can do harmful things to them but they have the right for none of them to be done to them.  They have the right not to be hit or stolen from or raped or murdered.  There are many other rights too.  The person "has these rights simply by being a human being".  People who believe that might say that they don't lie or murder or rape for they think it is wrong and the sense that it is wrong cannot be explained but  is just a part of them.

Then what do we need to connect morality to God for?  It is about what makes us flourish as human beings so what more do we need?

Keller says the Christian deals with oppressive people not by hating them or oppressing them but by being firmly and courageously confronting them.

That is a lie.  Oppressors have to be oppressed.

In the notes Keller mentions Karen Armstrong saying that the rational religion of France which honoured reason as if it were a god still cut the heads off seventeen thousand people. 

If religion is harmful, then it shows that even supreme reverence for reason cannot clip its wings.  But if the religion of France was one of faith the problem would be worse.  Faith usually hates reason but the problem is we cannot stop using reason so faith is at best passive aggressive.

In the notes Keller mentions Nietzsche saying that, "When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality.  Christianity is a system, a consistently thought out and complete view of things.  If one breaks out of it a fundamental idea, the belief in God, one thereby breaks the whole thing to pieces."

Christianity claims to be a good religion. That cannot be taken seriously when there is too much wrongdoing and sin for comfort.  There are more ways of losing any right to the "benefits" of Christianity than just unbelief or heresy.

In the notes Pascal is quoted with approval as saying that God came with enough light so that those who want to find him find him and those who don't have enough darkness to avoid finding him.

If God exists that goes without saying.  Thus the God idea is inherently degrading to atheists.

Keller explains in the notes that "in the Bible the heart is the seat of the mind, will, and emotions, together.  The Hebrew leb ("heart") is the centre of the entire personality.  So the Bible command to love God with all one's heart is to be paraphrased as "loving God means loving him for himself.  In Augustine's theology, to love God supremely is to love him for himself alone, and not just for what you can get from him".

It is good to have that clarified.  But it is such hard work that it is clear that most people when you deploy the god standard have to be adjudged as grossly sinful.  Even the human tendency to hate wrongdoing that clearly hurts a person is sinful for it does not take attacks on God's honour very seriously.

I would add that if you love God so that you a see all the things of this world as gifts that is a form of arrogant self indulgence.

Altruists would argue that altruism is hard and it is a waste of altruism to give  your selfless love to God for he does not need it and we could be directing it to people instead.  To direct it to God through people is not directing it to the people.

The notes mention Elizabeth Anscombe saying that it is crazy to argue that only consequences of an action make it right or wrong for there is no way to work that out unless you find that actions are bad/good in the first place and have bad or good consequences because of what they are.  She denies that consequentialist or utilitarian morality really is morality. 

I would add that another problem with utilitarianism is that it says whatever causes happiness to thrive the best is the right course.  But that does not respect a person's right not to be happy.  It bullies.  How can real happiness happen in a culture where you are told to be happy and which judges you if you won't be?

In fact believers in God promote that belief as a means of making the biggest number happiest.  That is the selling point.  So though she makes good points she can talk!

You do something for God.  It is done just for him not the consequences.  So it would seem.  Keller like Aquinas would assert that God is best understood as spirit and spirit means act.  God is pure act.  God is doing.  Is then not doing something for God then a form of acting for a consequence?  A consequence is an act that you hope will happen as the result of what you do.  Acting for an act is the subject at hand not when the act you act for happens.  You act for consequences for God now and that is as much doing it as for acts in the future.  If your identity is to be a person who acts for consequences then anybody telling you you should not is attacking you.


No Copyright