Theism, Power, and Wealth

Theism, Power, and Wealth March 23, 2019


A lawn at the Queen's College, University of Oxford
Queen’s College, Oxford   (Wikimedia Commons)


This blog’s resident atheist commentator likes to link theists to horrific world-historical violence, as if all or most war and genocide were driven by religion and as if irreligious people and militant atheists had never soiled their hands with such misbehavior and as if even most so-called “wars of religion” weren’t motivated largely or at least to a significant degree by quite this-worldly factors.  The stance is historically ridiculous, of course, and that fact has been pointed out to him multiple times with no effect.  He continues to repeat the libel.


Yesterday, though, he reverted to another of his themes, though a much less common one, insinuating that a major motivation for religion is that it can “be monetized and used to fill a cash drawer, I guess you could say that where there’s a till, there’s a way.”


He’s not infrequently cute like that, and there’s no question that human beings have often used religion to acquire wealth.  But then, of course, humans have also sought to satisfy their greed by means of power, status, sex, and just about everything else.  So, as a distinguishing mark of theism, avarice fails.  (Which is putting the case mildly, since religious belief has, quite undeniably, been a principal motivator of selfless service and remarkable sacrifice, whereas the lust for sex, status, and power can’t reasonably make that claim.)


But his little quip reminds me of an anecdote related by the Oxford philosopher Keith Ward, who is a Christian.  One night, after a debate somewhere in Oxford with the prominently and outspokenly atheist Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, Dr. Ward was waiting for bus to go home.  Rain was falling by the bucketful.  Suddenly, out of the wet darkness, a Rolls Royce pulled up by the bus stop.  Down rolled the window, and the driver, who was none other than Dr. Dawkins, asked Dr. Ward if he would like a lift.  As Dr. Ward climbed into Dr. Dawkins’s Rolls Royce, he later wrote, he wondered whether he had perhaps chosen the wrong side.




Yesterday morning, I posted an item under the title of “San Antonio and the rise of anti-religious tyranny in the United States.”


With that issue still on my mind, I was struck this morning by a passage on the very first page of the late British scholar F. F. Bruce’s classic book New Testament History:


“Roman law set its face against Christianity, so that a man was liable to suffer ‘as a Christian’ [1 Peter 4:16] without its being necessary to produce evidence of positive criminal action on his part.”



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