Stealing from God: Conclusion

Having made his case for the truth of Christianity, in the last chapter Turek presents the standard explanation for why people fail to accept it, namely, rebellion against authority. We just don’t want anyone telling us what to do. Turek says that this is true of everyone, including Christians. He even admits that “quite often I don’t want to acknowledge that there is a God and I am not Him.” He doesn’t explain why, in that case, people like him do accept Jesus. Presumably, he thinks that everyone rebels, only that atheists are worse.

In addition (as is usually the case with such claims), Turek ignores the adherents of other religions. Are some people Hindus or Muslims because they rebel against the real God? Obviously not. Yet that would have to be the case in order for the argument to be correct.

The rebellion explanation of nonbelief leads to a common justification of hell, namely that it exists for the sake of those who choose to go there. If some individuals “don’t want Jesus now, why would God force them into His presence for all eternity?” But unfortunately for Turek, there is a strong tension between this idea and the claim that hell is punishment for sin, and he has a difficult time avoiding that tension. Immediately after claiming that hell is there because God respects our freedom of choice, he says that it is needed because without it, “murderers, rapists, and child abusers... will never get justice.” But of course that's a different justification for it. And if evildoers are in hell only because they would rather be there, then wouldn’t it be a greater punishment to send them to heaven instead? And are we really to believe that God won’t do anything so harsh as to force them to do something against their will, even though they deserve serious punishment? In addition, of course, such people can convert on their deathbeds. But in that case, how will they ever receive the punishment they deserve?

The other obvious tension here for people like Turek is that, in addition to claiming that God is merely respecting our wishes, they also want to claim that hell is really, really bad. It is “a place of anguish, regret, mental torment, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But if it is so bad for everyone who is there, then how can they also prefer it to the alternative? The only way for that to make sense is if our desire for rebellion is so great that we would rather put up with almost any pain rather than live under someone else's authority. And yet atheists, like other people, subject themselves to authority on a regular basis. No one likes it all the time, but atheists, just as much as theists, submit to the rule of law and put up with regulations from their government rather than rebel. It doesn’t appear, then, that submitting to authority is the worst thing that can happen to an atheist.

Turek also maintains that, even though it isn’t doing good deeds that gets you into heaven, accepting Jesus does make you a better person: “If we truly come to know Him, then we will do good works.” And he mentions a thought experiment from Dennis Prager to back this up: Suppose, he asks, that you found yourself in a bad part of town late at night and saw several men walk toward you. Would you be relieved if you found out that these men had just come from a Bible-study class? If so, then even if you aren’t a Christian you must admit that Christianity has a “civilizing effect on society.”

Now, admittedly, people who take the time to go to a Bible-study class are less likely to be criminals. But this doesn’t show that Christianity reduces crime. Not only is it not the case that people who merely happen to be Christian are less likely to be criminals, a similar thought experiment shows that it isn’t the fact that it is a Bible-study class that matters: Suppose instead that the men had just come from an ethics class taught by an atheist professor — or, for that matter, from just about any voluntary class. I think you should feel every bit as relieved.

As I previously mentioned, Stealing from God came to my attention when one of Turek’s fans strongly recommended I read it. This individual apparently thought its arguments should convince anyone. And he is not alone. David Limbaugh (Rush’s brother, for those who may not know) describes Turek's book as “an unassailable case for the truth of Christianity,” and many others have praised it as well. And yet, as we’ve seen, the book is anything but unassailable. In fact, its arguments are among the weakest I’ve ever read. The fault is not entirely Turek’s, though. After all, defending the indefensible isn’t easy. Turek may have done a worse job than many, but in the final analysis the arguments of more sophisticated apologists are every bit as mistaken. The problem lies with the claims themselves. If Christianity is not only true, but obviously so, as these people maintain, then it shouldn’t be so difficult to demonstrate that fact. That it is so difficult should tell them something.

Franz Kiekeben is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of two books on atheism, The Truth about God, and Atheism: Q & A. He has also written for Skeptic magazine and published academic articles on determinism and on time travel.