In the Christmas Day issue of the New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof has a chat with the evangelist Christian pastor and author Timothy Keller, asking Am I a Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller?.
Kristof admires the teachings of Jesus but is skeptical about the literal truth of the virgin birth, and resurrection, and so on. Does that mean he’s not really a Christian? Keller takes a hard line.
The Christian Church is pretty much inexplicable if we don’t believe in a physical resurrection.
Having read for myself how scant the Biblical ‘evidence’ is for a physical resurrection (in my commentaries on books of the New Testament, in 2016 on this blog), this strikes me both as special pleading, and an illustration of the Sunk cost fallacy. As I discussed in one of my earlier posts, the claims about the resurrection (and the virginity of Mary) are so scant and inconsistent, they would not persuade anyone who did not already have a deep, deep commitment to the Christian church — as much of Western society has had for two millennia now. To evaluate that evidence by any contemporary standard and draw the appropriate conclusion would require abandoning the vast investment that society has already been made — all those traditions, all those cathedrals. Unthinkable. So most people don’t think about it. Or obfuscate.
In the letters section a few days later, the writer John Teehan calls out the dangerous implications of such hard-line thinking, in an even broader context.
Mr. Kristof gets to the moral core of the problem with this evangelical theology: It condemns billions of non-Christians to eternal damnation for the simple fact of being non-Christian. The Rev. Timothy Keller’s response is clear: Yes, only those who believe in Jesus can be saved.
This belief is a pure distillation of one of the most dangerous elements of human psychology: the moral bias toward the in-group and against the “other.” This moral tribalism is not restricted to religion (see contemporary politics) but when couched in religious language becomes exceptionally potent.
I think I shall have to read Mr. Teehan’s book.