Lately I have found myself having a lot of conversations with non-Christians who are seriously interested in discussing matters of faith and with Christians who are struggling with doubt and deep questions. These conversations have been enlightening, enriching, and good fun, but there is always more to be said than can ever be said over coffees and lunches. So I am taking time this winter to write about the questions that keep Christians up at night and that keep non-Christians from considering Christianity as a viable worldview and way of life. My hope is that these posts will stimulate further conversation and deepen the dialogues (and friendships) in which I am already engaged.
I think that Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud have perhaps provided us with the most powerful critique of the Christian faith available, for they were not primarily interested in direct attacks upon Christianity’s truth claims per se, but rather raised suspicions about the motives behind and origins of those claims. These thinkers bypass the usual questions about whether God exists or whether the Gospels are historically credible, and instead ask: Is not religion simply a neurosis? a coping mechanism? a psychological vestige of our barbaric, pre-scientific past? an underhanded power-grab? They aim to show not so much that any particular religion is false, but rather that religious believers in general are deluded, backward, or conniving.
This line of attack distinguishes Marx, Nietzsche and Freud from most of the great detractors of the faith that went before them and it is this line of attack that makes their critique unsusceptible to the sorts of apologetics that Christians have traditionally offered their critics. Should one offer a form of the ontological argument or evidence for Jesus’s resurrection in response to suspicion, one will inevitably come off sounding like the hypocritical Pharisee who wished “to justify himself” (Luke 10:29) and only make oneself more suspect in the eyes one’s critics.
So how, then, can Christians respond to the indictments of the so-called “school of suspicion”? Over the next week or so, I would like to survey and evaluate the responses offered by three modern Christian thinkers—C.S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, and Merold Westphal—to the critiques of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Each of these thinkers has a distinctive way of engaging with Marx, Nietzsche and Freud that will hopefully deepen our understanding of both the school of suspicion and the Christian faith.
Tomorrow we will look at C.S. Lewis’s response to Sigmund Freud….