I’ve been so intrigued by intelligent, nuanced Christian writing, meditating on morality and faith and the right way Christians should behave in the world. …And things fall back to form again! This time, it’s convicted felon and Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson telling the world:
Atheists do some wonderfully noble things; but they do so in spite of themselves and because of the common grace of God. [¶] Certainly we should give them credit for the good they do, but believers acknowledge that behind every good work is the hand of a good and loving Deity. … while unbelievers may do good, do they have the spiritual will to behave that way on a consistent basis? Believers who live lives consistent with their faith evidence a transformed will, that is, the ability to do what is right, not just know what is right. As a Christian I will agree that non-believers can discipline themselves and train their character to be relatively consistent in doing what is right, but it is a far harder task than it is for a believer who has the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
I’m tempted to say, “Chuck Colson, as between you and me, only one of us hasn’t had his license to practice law taken away from him for a demonstrated lack of moral character and felony conviction for using his public office to tamper with a jury by way of slandering an honorable journalist at the behest of his criminal mastermind of a boss. So one of us isn’t in much of a position to be bragging about having an easier time of behaving in a morally justifiable fashion.”
But in fact, that ignores some of the actually good things Colson has done since his participation in Watergate and subsequent service in Federal prison for obstruction of justice. He has done much to alert people to the idea that while prisons are not supposed to be nice places, society also cannot allow them to degenerate into places of rampant violence, rape, and a sadistically-studied neglect from popular discussion. That’s a worthwhile cause and an important one. And yes, it probably takes someone who has served in prison himself to be a leader in that effort. So I don’t want to say Colson is a totally bad guy because he’s paid his debt to society for his past transgressions and gone on to do some worthwhile things with his life. Colson’s cause is actually one to admire.
But that does not excuse his bigotry. To suggest that it’s easier for a Christian to behave morally than someone else is arrogant and demonstrably false. Note that while he aims his fire at atheists, anyone who is not empowered by the Holy Spirit faces the same kinds of moral challenges Colson attributes to atheists because as far as he’s concerned, the Holy Spirit does not animate Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and all the rest any more than it animates atheists. He concedes that atheists do, from time to time and apparently in spite of their awful moral foundations, manage to do good and noble things. Every once in a while and, apparently, purely due to the machinations of chance.
It’s this sort of thing that increases antagonism between people of different faith perspectives. I have made an effort over the past several weeks to looking for conciliation, deeper understanding, and better co-existence with believers. I get the sense that there are believers out there who are willing to do the same. It’s a shame that Chuck Colson isn’t among that number, and it’s a bigger shame that the Washington Post and Newsweek feel the need to give him so prominent a platform upon which to expound those ideas.
But of course the remedy for obnoxious speech like this is more speech. So what I’ll do is call on Christian Readers to raise their voices in objection to Colson’s. My objection should be clear.