[Ed. note: Tom has a very busy week, so Mike is filling in with a second post.]
Last Friday, the Chronicle Review published an article by Stephen T. Asma called “The New Atheists’ Narrow Worldview” (subscription probably required). The title intrigued me greatly, though the article itself was not quite what I expected. Asma argues that the New Atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al.) focus too much on arguments against Christianity and fail to engage non-Western religions, especially animism. That’s probably true. Asma then raises an excellent point that I wish he had developed further with regard to Western religions:
Harris and his colleagues think that religion is mostly concerned with two jobs — explaining nature and guiding morality…The horsemen’s mistake is not their claim that science can guide morality. Rather, they’re wrong in imagining that the primary job of religion is morality. Like cosmology, ethics is barely relevant in non-Western religions. It is certainly not the main function or lure of devotional life. Science could take over the “morality job” tomorrow in the developing world, and very few religious practitioners would even notice. (emphasis added)
As a lay student of world religions, I think Asma overstates his case regarding animism and understates his case regarding Christianity. But his central point is correct, I believe: the primary goals of religion are not explaining cosmology and encouraging morality. At least, this is the case with Christianity. The Bible proclaims God is Creator as the foundation of its message, not the conclusion. While moral standards are an important part of the Bible’s message, they’re hardly the focus. (If you don’t know what I mean, read Romans. Or Galatians. Or Hebrews. Or Job. Or the Psalms. Or — well, you get my point.)
I’ve got my own ideas on this question, but let’s hear yours first. Bonus points for providing references.
What’s the point of Christianity? To borrow Asma’s language, what’s the primary job, lure, or main function of the Christian life?