Sick Minds

We all know what it means to say someone has a sick mind. But a famous scientist has just given the phrase a whole new meaning. Writing in the magazine Free Inquiry, British biologist Richard Dawkins says religion is a mental virus—a false belief that infects your mind the way a virus infects your body. Consider the symptoms, Dawkins writes. People don't adopt a religion after carefully weighing the evidence; instead, faith is "caught" the way a cold is. It spreads from person to person like an infection, especially in families. For those who convert, Dawkins says, an evangelist may be the infectious agent. Revivals are virtual epidemics of faith. Well, it's all a clever biological metaphor, but what should Christians make of it? Should society open clinics where believers can receive daily doses of atheism until they're cured? I say Dr. Dawkins is a bit too quick with his diagnosis. It's true, of course, that many of us learn our religious faith at our parents' knees. But the way we learn about religion is a separate question from whether or not it is true. No matter what we learned as children, we all come to a point when we make our own commitment—when we no longer believe because of our parents but because we are personally convinced by experience and evidence. This kind of intelligent commitment is exactly what Christianity invites. Unlike some religions, the Bible does not preach a mystical experience that overrides our reason. Instead, Scripture connects its message to historical events that could be seen and confirmed by anyone present at the time—from Elijah calling down fire from heaven on Mount Carmel to Jesus publicly crucified and raised from the dead. Anyone who wanted to could check out the empty tomb. This is no invitation to blind faith. The Bible has been historically validated better than any other ancient document. When Dawkins calls religion a virus, he's ignoring the real character of Christianity. He's simply assuming that people accept it without any intelligent reasons—that they are driven by sheer emotional need. But haven't we heard this somewhere before? It's nothing but the old argument that religion is a crutch for weak people. Karl Marx called religion the "opiate of the people." Sigmund Freud labeled it a neurosis. But notice that neither Dawkins nor Marx nor Freud ever proved that religion is a mental sickness. They simply assumed that Christianity is false, and then set out to identify some aberration of the mind to explain why people still believe it. The entire argument is hopelessly circular. First it assumes that Christianity is false; then it diagnoses faith as a sickness to convince people that it's false. This is question-begging of the worst kind. So when you and I hear the latest version of the old argument that Christianity is a crutch for the weak-minded, don't be taken in by it. Genuine Christian faith doesn't infect your mind, it respects your mind. Christians ought to be the most tough-minded of all, unafraid to face any question about our faith. The God we worship is the Way, the Life . . . and the Truth.


Chuck Colson


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