*A review on Iain Provan’s book Seriously Dangerous Religion *
When I mentioned to an acquaintance that I thought Christopher Hitchens, in his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, had made some fairly accurate points, I was met with astounded unbelief. “But why would a Christian read Hitchens? He is an atheist!”
And there was my introduction, all wrapped up in a beautiful bow just waiting for nimble fingers to gently unwrap it. In fact, being able to voice modern and relevant concerns that people have with Christianity is not only disarming, it takes Christians out of the category of “us versus them,” and greatly assists in opening up dialogue.
As a bonus, after the conversation is over, many times the questioner is left much more willing to hear what other believers think as well. This is, of course, good for everybody — since we are supposed to have, after all, the good news.
Unfortunately, some complaints people have about Christians on issues such as the environment and gender injustices are, indeed, relevant and valid. For these and other matters, some have called Christianity “dangerous.”
So, what if you could tell questioning classmates, family members, or coworkers that God really digs social justice and egalitarian ideology; agrees that male chauvinists should be rebuked and refuted; that treehuggers can be cultural champions; that money-grubbing corporations are awful and – maybe more importantly – that He wasn’t actually responsible for killing their beloved grandmother with some hideous disease or giving her diabetes or whatever?
Enter Iain Provan and his book Seriously Dangerous Religion. For a Christian who wants to engage with our culture and the pertinent questions that are being asked, Provan provides a truly luscious — not to mention exceedingly well documented — work. If anyone recalls Richard Dawkins’ riotous rants about the God of the Old Testament, they include words like petty, unjust, unforgiving, vindictive, bloodthirsty, and misogynistic.
But what Provan does, with devastating coolness, is methodically turn each of those ideas on their heads — though in a most amicable manner that is not hostile or haughty. Provan doesn’t even come to the tricky issues already mentioned from the New Testament as is done in many cases; instead, he works mostly from the Old Testament.
From the very beginning of the book, I was confronted with the supposed secular boogies of Christianity, only to delightfully discover that they are not really there: women were not created by a loving God as secondary inferior servants to be ruled by men (sorry, autocratic males); the creator did not give humans license to abuse and or pillage the environment (apologies unscrupulous strip mining companies), or indeed — and especially! — each other.
As Provan boldly asserts, true “belief in the one God is the very thing that will forbid me from living as an authoritarian nationalist, a violent bigot, or planetary rapist.” In fact, when we understand biblical faith fully, we can be assured that it certainly “does not advocate (or indeed justify) the bending of everything in nature to human ends, any more than it justifies an escapist or a passive approach to the natural world. It advocates a wise balancing of earth keeping … accompanied by people keeping as well, as we live out our lives in the good world in which the good God has placed us.”
Indeed, as Provan demonstrates, Christianity is a particularly dangerous religion, but not in the way that the some of the naysayers like Karen Armstrong or Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins claim. It is dangerous “to those who do not wish to think of every other human being as their image bearing neighbour.” It is dangerous to anybody who insists that “there is nothing special about human beings as a class.” Biblical faith is “dangerous to those among the powerful who would like to be left alone to use and oppress the weak;” and “to those among the rich who would like to be left alone to use and oppress the poor.”
In sum, as Provan says, true biblical faith is “dangerous to those who are committed to the status quo.”
For those of us who desire to meaningfully engage our culture, and do it with credibility, this recent work of Provan’s makes for some excellent exploration of timely topics our detractors are concerned about. It demonstrates that biblical faith, when taken seriously by loving individuals, is truly a seriously dangerous religion.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Anosmia.