Wednesday, March 20, 2013

When Christians Disappoint

Okay, I should be used to this by now.  Back in the '70's, when divorce was still a new thing in Christian circles, we were all shocked by Hal Lindsey and Anita Bryant.  Later the Christian music stars Sandy Patti and Amy Grant each left their husbands and took up with new men. And, of course, we all have innumerable examples in our personal lives of Christians who decided that their marriage vows were just too hard to keep. So this latest disappointment shouldn't be such a big deal.  Should it?

Five or six years ago my husband borrowed a book that had shown up in the lounge at his work, What's So Great About Christianity by Dinesh D'Souza. I had never heard of D'Souza at that point, but I read the entire book in one afternoon.  It was fascinating. In the book he explored the scientific, historical, and philosophical basis for belief in God, responding to numerous atheistic books attacking Christianity. Later my daughter and I attended a debate in Princeton on the topic "Can there be Morality without God?" in which D'Souza debated the famous atheist professor Peter Singer. Again, I was impressed by his intelligence and spiritual insight. I began to buy other books he had written, including Life After Death, The End of Racism, and (for my son) Letters to a Young Conservative. I loved them all.  My son even gave What's So Great About Christianity to a skeptic friend of his from high school.

When I recently heard a rumor that D'Souza was getting a divorce, I decided to go on the internet and check it out. The story seems to be that he and his wife have been separated for the last two years (at his wife's request, he says).  Then he showed up at a Christian conference in September with a much younger woman whom he introduced as his fiancee.  Since he was still married, this caused some natural consternation. When confronted, D'Souza said, "I had no idea that it is considered wrong in Christian circles to be engaged prior to being divorced, even though in a state of separation and in divorce proceedings." (Really?) The divorce wasn't filed until a few days after the conference, but who knows how long he had been thinking about it. There is also hot debate about whether or not the two shared a hotel room at the conference.

Okay, so another one bites the dust. Why does this bother me more than Amy Grant?  Maybe it has to do with the nature of their respective fame.  Amy Grant was a young girl with a pretty voice who was noticed by the right people and became a big name. A pretty face and a pretty voice do not a spiritual giant make. But as I sadly read the reports about D'Souza, I kept remembering his books and wondering, "How could someone who so wonderfully articulated the philosophical basis for belief do such a disappointing job of living it out?"

Maybe the answer is found in D'Souza's words themselves.  At the Princeton debate, Peter Singer argued that Christians are not necessarily more moral than unbelievers. D'Souza replied, (and I'm quoting from memory, not verbatim,) "If you are saying that Christians don't do a good job of living up to their own moral code, I agree with you.  But that supports my claim that morality is transcendent, not man-made.  If we were going to create our own moral code, we would make one that was easier to live up to."

In What's So Great About Christianity, as he discussed the nature of man, D'Souza said, "For Plato, the problem of evil is a problem of knowledge.  People do wrong because they do not know what is right.  If they knew what was right, obviously, they would do it.  But Paul denies that this is so.  His claim is that even though he knows something is wrong, he still does it.  Why?  Because the human will is corrupt. The problem of evil is not a problem of knowledge but a problem of will."  (pp. 55-56)

My grandmother was a quiet, shy, self-effacing woman who stayed in a difficult marriage with a difficult man for 68 years.  After her death, my mother was reflecting on why she stayed with him for all those years.  "I can only assume it was because she believed God wanted her to do that."

Imagine that.