Everything You Do Is Wrong

Everything You Do Is Wrong March 24, 2016

Two-thirds of the way through a book entitled The Reason for God, Tim Keller openly admits on page 162 that he isn’t even going to attempt to provide evidence that God exists. Why not? Because, he says, you already know God exists. All of you. Atheists, too. He’s just trying to make you see that you already do. Chapter 10 on “The Problem of Sin” then proceeds as if nothing more needs to be said on the matter.

Can I just say I am so ridiculously tired of the presumptuousness of it all?

Let Me Tell You What You’re Really Thinking

Just yesterday I read a piece by a Christian writer—yet another self-styled apologist—who was explaining that even though his professional career has come to center around defending his faith, his own teenage daughters are currently distancing themselves from the religion in which they were raised. No matter, he says. Deep down they know their father is right. They’re just mad at God for not making the world a happier, healthier place, despite the fact that evidently they were not even raised to have such an expectation. Nor was I, for what it’s worth.

I left a comment on his post to the effect that I can relate to the difficulty of watching as your own children walk down a path different from your own. In my case, their mother and I raised them to be good evangelical Christians, but I was the one who ended up on a different path from them. Now my girls are all still devout Baptists, while their father has become an atheist.

The difference between him and me? I will never presume to tell my daughters that whatever path they are currently on is just a phase, and that I trust they will grow out of it one day. What a condescending way to speak to your own children! I have no idea what my children will ultimately believe about the big questions of life, but I have also made it clear that I don’t really care. My daughters’ conclusions about the big metaphysical questions are not the most important thing about them to my mind.

What matters so much more to me is the kind of women they become. What they believe about miracles and prayer and afterlives matters far less to me than whether or not they are learning to be compassionate, critical thinkers who treat each other well and seek to do whatever they can to make the world a better place. In fact, when I first started writing again after my deconversion, one of the first things I did was begin a series of short letters to them so that they can know exactly how I feel about a number of issues that I know will come up as they wrestle with their father’s departure from the faith. I plan on adding more letters to that collection soon.

[Read “Letters to My Daughters“]

But here Keller does the same thing that the apologist father does with his own children: He presumes to tell his readers that he knows more than they do about what’s really going on inside their minds and hearts.

So. sick. and. tired of it.

Furthermore, since Keller has finally concluded that real evidence for the existence of God is unnecessary (because we already know, right?), he shifts abruptly into preaching sermons for the remainder of the book. No more real argumentation is really needed. From this point onward, he will be slinging churchy words and phrases left and right, trotting out sweeping religious generalizations in rapid fire succession, never stopping to actually support or validate the claims that he is making. I guess we’re just supposed to know that whatever he says next is right.

No Matter What You Do, You’re Wrong

He starts by trotting out the word “sin” and building an entire chapter around it. I wrote earlier this week that using that word instead of any of the alternatives defeats your purpose if what you’re doing is trying to appeal to people who don’t already think the same way as you do. But preaching and evangelism depend upon loaded language like this because in order to make their case, they have to first choose proprietary words—words which stack the deck in favor of their own framework—or else they won’t really be able to build a substantial case.

Additionally, instead of choosing commonly accepted examples of what is right and what is wrong, he starts things off by defining sin in such fundamentally skewed terms that only people who are correctly oriented toward his specific deity are in the right no matter what they are doing at the moment.

Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him. (p.168)

Sin is not simply doing bad things, it is putting good things in the place of God. (p.178)

This is why years ago I finally had to accept, despite my natural inclination to be conciliatory, that humanism and evangelical Christianity are fundamentally opposed to one another. The Christian gospel depends on judging even our good deeds and our praiseworthy traits as “sinful” because…well…because there has to be something to save you from. Without a sense of that need on your part, they have nothing to offer you.

Keller does what any preacher and evangelist has to do: He shoehorns all of life into an inescapable (false) dilemma: You’re either livin’ for Jesus, or you’re livin’ in sin. There are no alternatives.

Does that scare you? Does it sound stifling? Remember this—if you don’t live for Jesus you will live for something else. (p.179)

He then rattles off a list of the usual suspects, rivals to the primacy of Jesus in our lives like our families, our careers, our political loyalties, our pursuit of happiness, and our hunger for personal significance and self-worth. To care “too much” about any of these things, he tells us, qualifies as idolatry.

Our need for [any of the above] is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially “deify.” We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think of ourselves as highly irreligious. (p.169)

Sound familiar? That came up in the other day’s post as well. It’s the exact same song and dance every time.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re wrong. Even doing good things is bad, because you’re doing them for some motivation other than pleasing Jesus.

Thus we see how they have to rig the game in such a way that no matter how well you think you’re doing, you are really failing at life. This is the “good news” that Keller has come to share with you. Perhaps you only think you are happy, or are doing the best you can. Keller is here to tell you that you are not.

The chapters which follow will prescribe a remedy for the diagnosis you have just received. Perhaps you didn’t even know you were sick. Well, you are. But fret not, my friend, for Christianity has exactly what you need!

Here’s a cute dog. Because why not?

Yet Another Closet Fundamentalist

Before I leave this chapter, I cannot neglect to take a moment to highlight the masked archaisms that undergird everything Keller is pushing on us.

I often speak about the similarities between fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. I maintain that these are words intended to differentiate between subcultures which in reality believe the same basic things. The differences are stylistic, cosmetic at best. I often quip that an evangelical is basically a fundamentalist with a better haircut.

But listen to what Keller says are among the consequences of our being so very, very sinful:

We are told that as soon as we determined to serve ourselves instead of God…the entire world became broken. Human beings are so integral to the fabric of things that when human beings turned from God the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled. Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. (p.177, emphasis mine)

Say what, now? Keller is claiming that droughts and floods, tornados and hurricanes, and even aging and death itself only exist because of human beings.

Think about that for just a minute. Earlier in this book he gave an obligatory nod toward accepting common ancestry, even if he did it in a weirdly noncommittal way. In so doing, Keller was distancing himself from the Young Earth Creationists who believe the Earth is only around 6,000 years old. But now he is turning around and stealing a page from their playbook, arguing that death, disease, and aging all entered the world because of humans, specifically.

Did anyone ever explain to Keller that in the calendar of cosmic history, human beings didn’t even enter the story until about 9pm on December 31st? And now he is wanting to pin the very existence of aging and death on us alone?

How exactly do human beings cause tornados? And hurricanes? Evidently Keller buys into the notion that somehow the forces of nature owe their destructive qualities to divine punishment for human transgression. This final point could have been issued by Pat Robertson or Ken Ham, both of whom can be regularly heard making those fantastical claims.

Honestly, my patience with this has already run out. It doesn’t really matter that Keller is better at packaging fundamentalism/evangelicalism. He can dress this discussion up and make it look like it belongs in a Manhattan business luncheon. But it really is the same, old stuff, all over again.


As with the rest of this review, I am including links to the videos of Steve Shives, who covered all of these chapters in pairs in his “An Atheist Reads” series. Be sure to check them out.  Here he covers Chapters 10 and 11:

[Image Source: Unsplash]


If you’d like to read the rest of my responses to Keller’s chapters up until this point, you can find them listed here:

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