We have been considering some of the differences between Christianity and Islam, and have noted that the concept of jihad is rooted both in the Quran and Islamic history. But does that make Western society superior to the Islamic world? What does God think about us?
Atheists sometimes advance what is known as the moral argument against the Bible: the Bible cannot possibly be taken seriously as a moral guide because it shocks and offends our sensibilities. The critics who advance this argument will point to certain episodes, mostly contained in the Old Testament, such as Abraham being told to sacrifice his son Isaac, the Israelites being told to wipe out the Canaanites, the toleration of slavery, and the treatment of women generally. The argument is then made that the Bible reflects the barbaric standards of a primitive society, and therefore cannot be taken seriously today.
The criticism, however, masks a fatal weakness on the part of the critic. In order to sit in judgment on the Bible, one must have a standard external to the Bible by which to judge it. But what is the standard, and where does it come from? When pressed the critic is generally forced to admit that there is no standard – most modern secular critics of the Bible do not admit the existence of moral absolutes. In their view there is no universally binding moral code. Morality is culturally relative.
But if morality is culturally relative, how can someone in one culture sit in judgment on another culture? He is inevitably applying the culturally relative standards of his own, modern, Western society on others. One might ask, however, how a modern society that could drop an atomic bomb on a civilian population during World War II could sit in judgment of an ancient moral code that contains such quaint aphorisms as "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," or how a society that can support a multi-billion dollar sex industry can criticize the way women were treated in the Bible, but such is the arrogance of modern Western (politically correct) society.
But beyond that we ask the fundamental question: should we judge God by our standards, or should we judge ourselves by His? Exactly who or what determines right and wrong in the first place? Once it is conceded that God exists, the answer is obvious. If God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Judge, His will is normative. His opinion is the only one that counts. It is for us to comply with His standards.
In point of fact God has told us what He thinks of us. In Romans 1:18-32 we have a scathing critique of a society in deep moral decline – and it is an apt description of us.
The apostle Paul is writing to the early Christian church in the city of Rome. He had never been there before, and he was describing to the Roman Christians his mission and his message. In setting the stage for his exposition of the Christian gospel he records his impressions of Graeco-Roman society. It is a remarkable piece of psychological insight.
Interestingly, in his analysis of human society he traces the moral decline to a form of secularism. "The wrath of God," he says, "is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . ." (Rom. 1:18; NKJV). "Ungodliness" is the failure, or perhaps we should say, the refusal to acknowledge God. "Unrighteousness" is the failure to live by His laws. What makes this a crime in God's sight? The fact that God is our Creator and we owe everything to Him. We are surrounded by evidence in nature of God's wisdom and power, and our conscience bears witness to His existence as well. Hence our refusal to acknowledge His is nothing less that a species of moral rebellion against our Creator. It is the clenched fist of human defiance, and if affects our whole way of looking at reality. They "became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools . . ." (vv. 21,22).
And how does God respond to this? "Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves" (v. 24). As hard as it may seem to believe, God sometimes abandons us to our own lusts. People sometimes say that they see no evidence of God at work in the world today, and up to a point they are absolutely right. God is largely absent from our world, and for good reason. When we ignore Him, when we systematically exclude Him from our thinking and our lives, we fall under His judgment. He leaves us to our own devices.
The "sexual revolution" is a symptom of this abandonment by God, and the prevalence of homosexuality is specifically mentioned as a particularly egregious example of this. "For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful" (vv. 26,27). It is a picture of a society sunk in moral degeneracy.
The terminal stage of social and moral decline is marked by a wide range of compulsive, anti-social and self-destructive behavior. And not only is the behavior indulged in, it is openly condoned. " . . . who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (v. 32). It has become a truly godless society.
It is not hard to see the parallels with modern western society. We have witnessed the radical secularization of our culture, and with it the breakdown of public morality. We have become sexually permissive, and marriage has largely become a meaningless institution. A whole generation of children is being reared in dysfunctional one-parent households. Yet even as we careen toward the precipice of social disintegration, we lack the presence of mind to turn around. We have become a morally bankrupt society bent on self-destruction.
"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting . . . " (v. 28).
For a fascinating article by Rod Dreher of The American Conservative on gay marriage and the sexual revolution, see Sex After Christianity