Kenneth Copeland, Faith, Fear and Ignorance

Early this morning I happened to see Kenneth Copeland talking with another preacher about faith. It disturbed me and discouraged me. It became clear to me while listening in for about ten minutes of wasted time that Christianity is here to stay. Just as Christianity survived the attacks of Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Nietzsche, Robert Ingersoll, and Bertrand Russell, it will survive the attacks of skeptics in our day. That’s both disturbing and discouraging to me. Christians have told the oft repeated story of how an anvil has broken many a hammer, and just like the anvil, the Bible as God’s anvil will break any hammer attack by skeptics. Christians tout the claim that skeptics have come and gone but the Bible has withstood every attack. Yes it has. And it will survive, perhaps easily. It’s an impossibly tough nut to crack, but not for the reasons Christians tout. Not because the Bible is true. Not because the evidence is on the believer’s side. But because of faith, fear and ignorance.

Copeland said faith was an action word. It's not. It's a noun. Verbs are action words. He said if someone yells "fire" in a theatre, the man who sniffs and says he doesn't smell any smoke and who looks and doesn't see any fire, will die if he doesn't get out. He said "I'm not gonna die because of my nose. I'm gonna believe God's word." This scenario is a non-analogous one, because it presumes that the person yelling "fire" is telling the truth even when the initial evidence seems to be against it. People have been known to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre when there is no fire.

During the brief time I was watching him it became crystal clear to me he is ignorant. He is ignorant about the Bible, philosophy, and history, to name just a few things. I don’t write about televangelists, because my aim is much higher that that. I usually aim at the premier apologists and Christian philosophers of our day. But these televangelists have a great many watchers and donors enough for some of them to be rich. This may be a better indicator of the level of understanding of the person in the pew than others. Ministries like his flourish because there are a great many ignorant believers with money. Even as a minister I tried to argue with my congregations that their offerings would be better used in the local church and on the mission field than on televangelists, and I said that prior to the Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker debacles.

Maybe the main motivator that keeps believers from being informed is that they have a fear of doubt which can lead to hell, I don’t know for sure. Maybe it’s anti-intellectualism, since the Bible disparages reason in favor of faith. Maybe it’s the desire to be "fully persuaded" in order to please their God, which doesn’t allow them to entertain any doubts or question their faith. Again, of that it might depend on the individual believer. But they are ignorant. Millions of them.

I think there are several areas of study which could provide the antidote to this ignorance. Maybe many believers just do not read the Bible. Chris Hallquist is right. When asked after a debate which books he would recommend, he said, “read the Bible.” Why? Because it debunks itself. It contains the reflections of ancient superstitious and barbaric people. Christian, have you read the Old Testament? Have you read Judges 19-21, seen here (scroll down)? One of my goals here at DC is to help believers become biblically literate for this very reason.

Copeland talks about the Bible being the word of God, but has he done any study at all in the five stages of Gospel transmission (scroll down), or has he really wrestled with the Biblical inconsistencies? I didn’t think so.

I think Copeland should also look into the history of the church which demolishes evangelicalism. He should look into the history of theology too, and he can even read evangelical Roger E. Olson’s treatment of it, to see how theology has been fought over and changed through the years. He should look into how theologians down through the years have interpreted the Bible, by reading evangelical Donald K. McKim’s edited book, Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters. It’s simply ignorant of Copeland to be that cocksure of his particular theology and his particular interpretation of the Bible, even by the standard of better informed evangelical writers (who, by the way, do not draw the proper conclusions necessitated by their own studies, presuming as they do that they've finally got it right when they admit it's an ongoing and ever-changing venture).

Copeland should also try to understand the history of Christian ethics, by reading J. Philip Wogman’s book, Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction (Westminister Press, 1993). Christian believers who claim they alone have a standard of ethics should go to the library and read that book. They don’t have one. There isn’t any evidence they do.

That’s enough for now. But I think Christianity will survive our attacks because of ignorance. It’s not because our arguments have been defeated. So I commit myself and hope other skeptics (and believers) will join me in stamping out ignorance. I'm not afraid of this. Are you?