|Calvary Episcopal Church, Rockdale
2 Pentecost - Trinity Sunday
June 3, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
Interesting article in yesterday morning’s Inquirer. It was a Faith/Life feature, and it was entitled, The
latest front in the culture wars: Atheists attack, with a sub-head: Several recent books assail faith quite
bluntly: “Religion kills”.
The article begins, “The time for polite debate appears to be over. Atheist writers are making an all-out
assault on religious faith and reaching the top of the best-seller lists, in a possible sign of resentment
among non-believers over the influence of religion in the world.”
The writer then cites a handful of more or less recent books: a current release by Christopher
Hitchens: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything; a 2004 book by a graduate student, Sam
Harris, The End of the Faith, and his follow-up, Letter to a Christian Nation; biologist Richard Dawkins’
The God Delusion; and a book by philosopher, Daniel Dennett, entitled, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a
Just out of curiosity, I did some checking, and I discovered there were 291,920 new titles and editions
published in the United States in 2006, with 17, 921 titles in the religious category. Hmmmm. And the
Inquirer article cites 4 titles on atheism written over more than 2 years as an indication of “an all-out
assault on religious faith.” Hmmmm.
All this in a nation in which a 2005 AP-Ipsos poll found that all of 2 percent of Americans claim not to
believe in God and that a whopping 14 percent of Americans consider themselves “secular,” that is
having no religion – even though most of them, apparently, do believe in God but just dislike religion!
The Associated Press writer of the piece was, I think, irresponsible in her approach – catering, it would
seem, to those irresponsible far-right evangelical preachers who claim Christianity is under attack in
this nation! Silliness, really, to claim the vast majority of Christians in this country are somehow
threatened by the attacks of the 2% - and especially considering the authors cited are opposed to ALL
religions, not just Christianity! 98 to 1? Hmmmm.
And at the same time, she doesn’t really follow up on the opening charge she ascribes to the atheist
writers: that “Religion Kills,” either.
It’s too bad she doesn’t. That’s a discussion I would really like to have seen – because the authors she
attacks actually have a point, there.
Not that “religion” kills – but religious people certainly have been known to kill, and often they do it in
the name of their religion! We’re seeing that, today, in the person of the radical Islamists who have
been waging a small scale war against the Christian West, and against many of their own Islamic
brothers and sisters, as well.
But I’m more interested in my own faith – as I wish the whole world would be – than in other people’s.
And when we look there, we have nothing very much to be proud of, either.
Christianity started out with its leading figure – the Christ, the Son of God – being murdered for
refusing to give up his radical ways and cave in to the establishment, and one would think that would
have provided a lasting lesson for Christians. For the first three hundred years of the faith’s
existence, of course, Christians were subject to great – though rather sporadic –persecutions, with
considerable loss of life over the centuries. But then, in 313, the Emperor Constantine issued the
Edict of Milan, which ordered the toleration of all religions in the Roman Empire, including Christianity,
and the end of persecution. But, finally free of government persecution, it wasn’t long before
Christians began persecuting each other over their disagreements, with everyone convinced that
“heretics” were not to be suffered – and, of course, the heretics were always the “other guys.” Even
the great theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo, called for persecution of heretics, insisting that error has
no rights, and the first execution of a Christian heretic took place in 385 – in Augustine’s time – at the
request of the Spanish Bishops.
Throughout the Middle Ages, execution of heretics continued – though I know of no reliable estimate
of the total numbers – and culminated in the pre-reformation period with the execution of over 2000
heretics in the province of Andalusia, alone, ordered by Pope Sixtus IV. And, of course, we should
never forget the Crusades, and the enormous loss of life they caused, not amongst our heretics, but
against our Muslim brothers.
With the Reformation, mortal religious conflict invaded Europe, itself, and now it became possible
even for states to go to war with each other over religious differences – and the death toll mounted!
I don’t have any statistics, at all, or even good stories for the non-Christian religious of the world, but
it is certain they have not historically been any more tolerant of those they disagreed with than have
Thankfully, it’s been a while since the Church – any of our Churches – has been in the business of
hunting down and condemning heretics to death. But we mustn’t forget that, just because we
Christians have not been killing heretics for a while, we haven’t always made nice with each other. It is
sobering to remember that, of all the deaths that have occurred in the world over the past 500 years,
¾ of them occurred in the wars of the 20th Century; that the vast majority of those occurred in the 1st
and 2nd World Wars; and those tolls involved, primarily, the “Christian Nations” of Europe attacking
and killing each other!
No, the thing that should disturb us is not that in today’s book market believers are being attacked by
non-believers, but that there is so much truth in what they say!
Christians have been killing Christians they disagree with for over 1600 years, and we started killing
members of other faiths in large numbers almost a millennium ago!
But you know what? It’s an easy process: from disagreement to slaughter – what one might call a
We begin by observing that you and I disagree. We disagree about God. But I’m right, of course, which
puts me on God’s side! You’re mistaken, so that means you’re not on God’s side. I am on God’s side,
so that means I’m good. You’re not on God’s side, so that means you’re not only mistaken, you’re bad –
for opposing God! Opposing God is not just bad, it’s evil – and Satan is the evil one who opposes God
– so you must be on the side of Satan! Satan and his minions prowl the earth seeking the destruction
of souls! They must be destroyed – just look at the Book of the Revelation!
So you must die!
Okay, that’s a little fanciful – but only a little! Sure, people don’t actually go through all those steps,
thinking about the people they disagree with, but the progression is there, all the same. And the fact
that we don’t actually go through the conscious thought processes – and very few do! – makes us prey
to those who would take advantage of us for their own purposes – leaders who, on both sides of every
war in modern times; possibly ever! – managed to convince their people that they were being called
upon to fight and kill and die for “God and Country!”
Of course, there’s only one little thing wrong with all of this. It has nothing, whatever, to do with the
God revealed in Jesus Christ and with the faith that follows and trusts in that God!
I occasionally make reference to some of the sources I use in constructing my sermons. And more
often than not, I cite one of those sources as saying something I totally disagree with, as the jumping
off place for my sermon! This morning, for a change, I want to cite the source I most often disagree
with – but with a difference. On this Trinity Sunday, the writer actually got it precisely right in
describing the Trinity. He wrote:
In his Last Supper discourse, Jesus speaks not only to his disciples, but to all who wait for
his final coming. When he tells them, “I have much more to say to you,” Jesus does not simply
mean spoken words or information about their mission but something deeper and much
richer about the life of God in their midst. For Jesus has one thing and one thing only to
reveal: love, itself, the love he shares with Father and Spirit, the love which is, more
precisely, his relationship with God, his Father. *
The God the Church is called to proclaim is not a God of vengeance, not a God of punishment. He does
not EVER call us to kill in his name!
For many, many years, I have made it my practice to respond to people who tell me they are atheists,
saying, “Oh, that’s wonderful; I don’t believe in the same God you don’t believe in!” Because I know
that they don’t know about the God of Love – the God who Is love – and that that’s NOT the God they’
ve rejected! I know, rather, that they have some second-hand idea of a God who does a lot of fancy
tricks and who threatens when he doesn’t get his way, and even kills.
But I can’t find that God in my Bible. I can’t find that God in the faith I belong to and love. And I certainly
can’t find that God in my heart!
So, again – I don’t believe in the same God the atheists who occasioned, with their writings, this
newspaper article, don’t believe in.
And I also don’t believe in the same God their opponents – the ulra-conservative, fundamentalists –
do believe in.
My God is the God who is love! And my hope and dream is of a day when all Christians will come to
know that God – and that we can someday stop killing God’s children in God’s Name. Amen.
* The quote is from the “Sunday’s Readings” feature in The Living Church Magazine, the issue of June