Charles Templeton, Suffering, and the Meaning of life
cutting room floor from “Mighty”
Charles Templeton was a powerful evangelist. After a spectacular conversion at age nineteen, this gifted and compelling orator drew huge crowds and led many to Jesus in the late 1930s and early 1940s. At times he shared the roster at big meetings with fledgling preacher Billy Graham, but the thousands came to hear Templeton, not Graham. He was the big name, the big draw.
As the mop-up from World War II went on, Allied troops began finding Nazi war camps. News reels showed horrific footage of piles of emaciated bodies who had obviously died in horrible and terrifying ways. Stunned, Templeton began saying what is often said in the face of such horrors: “How can a loving God allow this to happen?” In a determined search for answers, Templeton left the ministry, enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary, and began trying to fill in the gaps in his training in the Bible and theology. Sadly, it was a time when a totally materialistic view of reality was effectively replacing the biblical worldview of life beginning from the deliberate creation of the loving and thoroughly good God in intellectual circles and institutes of “higher learning.” When Templeton began investigating the great questions of life as addressed by all the most renowned thinkers of the day, he was hearing their atheistic worldview. Hume, Existentialist writers such as Sartre and Camus, Darwin, Freud, and others were quickly dismantling belief in deliberate divine design, meaning, or purpose for life. Through geology and biology, the Bible was being “discredited,” and the existence of God. Hume discounted miracles as impossible because he said they violated the laws of nature. Without miracles, Christianity is reduced to moral stories, no more transcendent than the teachings of Confucius or Lao Tsu.
Sadly, these are still the prevailing worldview. And without adequate information to counteract it and prepare your children for life outside your home, they can dismantle their confidence in the purposes and goodness of God. I’ve seen this same scenario played out in numerous other lives. I know so many agnostics, whom I dearly love, who began in Christian families and turned away, seeing nothing worth keeping in the faith of their fathers. Often they are the smartest ones, and I have a feeling they asked questions and were either not given any convincing reasons to believe in Jesus, or they were told to accept it by faith, which is like being told, “because I said so.” And it was boring. Nothing in it made them excited to be alive, and they saw no evidence of a transcendent God.
Many years after Templeton left the ministry, Lee Strobel interviewed him to find out why. Not surprisingly, one of Templeton’s main issues was about suffering. Why would a loving God allow it? Many decide the answer is one of the following:
1. He doesn’t care.
2. He isn’t powerful enough to stop it.
3. He isn’t good.
4. There is no God.
Templeton blamed God for allowing the death camps. Though it could be argued that God didn’t do that, people did, Templeton could counter with, “God allowed it. What kind of loving God would permit such cruelty?” Again, these seemingly penetrating questions are not new, but their logic still appeals to those who see the injustices around them and decide God is not paying attention, lacks the power to do anything about it, isn’t real, or isn’t good. “Let’s see… Based on all the evidence, let’s pass judgment on God. Looks like good, sound logic to me.” It worked on Eve and it works on human beings to this day.
But back to Templeton. Apparently he didn’t make the connection between the devaluing of human life and the relentless eugenics Hitler promoted. The inspiration for these eugenics sprang from Charles Darwin’s book. This is its full title, which is often omitted, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Later Templeton himself would embrace the explanations evolution provided. There is no intervention because there is no God. It’s just how it is.
Now let’s take a look at the ramifications of the Darwinian worldview—what it accepts, promotes, and justifies. In the film, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Ben Stein visited two Nazi concentration camps. At Hadmar, an “insane asylum,”15,000 Jews were exterminated and many were subjected to medical “scientific” experimentation. When Stein asked his guide why those Jews were killed, she said, “They were persons with handicaps. They were not able to work. People were not able to live by themselves. They were worthless eaters, unworthy of living.”
A German newscast from the war years carried the following report, which included close-ups of humans who were disfigured and grotesque: “All that is not viable in nature invariably perishes. We humans have transgressed the law of natural selection in the last decades. Not only have we supported inferior life forms, we have encouraged their propagation. The offspring of these sick people looks like this. Individuals lower than any beast.”
Dr. Richard Waikart, author of From Darwin To Hitler, said Hitler and many of the physicians who carried out this program of eugenics (improving the race by selective breeding) were very fanatical Darwinists who particularly wanted to apply Darwinism to society. He said Hitler saw the extermination of the Jews as part of the Darwinian struggle for existence. He adds Hitler thought he was doing something good. He thought he was benefiting humanity by driving evolution forward and creating a better humanity.
Are these associations of Hitler with Darwinism exaggerations? Did Darwin stick to science and theories of the progression of life forms or was he involved in the promotion of the weeding of the human race? Let’s take a look at what Darwin himself wrote regarding the application of his principles of natural selection to human beings.
“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our best to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the weak and imbeciles, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized society propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this is highly injurious to the race of Man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”
—Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871
I think it’s helpful to your children to see the connection between mind-boggling inhumanity and human free will. Yes, God could have stopped it, but He also gave us freedom to choose what we will do. When we start deciding at what point God is unrighteous because of what He allowed, where does it end? It’s a big question, one that I address several times in this book. It’s not as simple as, “God should have prevented it.” Interestingly, in the old days, insurance companies had a clause about things that happened from what they called an “act of God.” Lightning, a tree falling over and crushing your car—those were not caused by human beings; they were caused by God and it was His fault alone. I guess blame is a natural human attitude since original sin—the serpent tricked me. The woman You gave me gave it to me and I ate…
So Hitler took survival of the fittest to new levels, and a lot of other people shared his enthusiasm for eugenics. It’s easy to think of “other” as inferior when you’re on a campaign to improve your own race. As soon as there is any reduction in the value of an individual, all kinds of things become reasonable. Ben Stein explored that subject with mathematician and philosopher David Berlinski.
Ben Stein: “I know that Darwinism does not automatically equate to Natzism, but if Darwinism inspired and justified such horrific events in the past, could it be used to rationalize similar initiatives today?”
Berlinski: “There’s a German saying, ‘It always begins in the same way.’ That’s something to remember in the United States’ discussion of euthanasia and abortion. ‘It always begins in the same way.’ It seems to be an excellent argument for getting rid of ‘useless’ people by killing them.”
Atheists assert there is no such thing as objective morality. No God, so no standards of right-doing. No divine creation, no children created in the image of God, so no soul or hereafter or purpose for human life except what you assign it when it’s yours. And if it’s something you engendered but don’t want, it’s up to you to decide what to do about it. I’ve heard a lot of the rationale behind abortion. Some of it sounds really reasonable. Perhaps you have been confused when confronted with these arguments in defense of abortion. It’s situational ethics. Who are you going to throw out of the life boat? Thankfully, we have help, both in the Bible and insights from Christians firmly grounded in God’s truth. One is John Lennox, Professor of mathematics emeritus at Oxford University. In his concern about these questions, he earned a Masters in bioethics in order to be qualified to confront these issues with training and deeper education. His work has brought him into contact with leading researchers in fields we cannot enter, and I am so grateful to be able to share with you his conversations with them. For me, Lennox’s perspective, based on his God-centered worldview, clears away the fog of situational ethics and gets to the real heart of the matter.
The following is an excerpt from the Q&A after one of Lennox’s talks at a university.
Here’s the question: “What do you think about abortion?”
John Lennox: I remember having a conversation with a famous Oxford ethicist who was a student of Peter Singer. Peter Singer argues in print that parents ought to have a license after birth to put to death children, especially disabled children. I disagree wholeheartedly with some of his views on ethics, but what I observe is they flow from his atheistic worldview.
I remember speaking with a very brilliant person who’s involved with in vitro fertilization. We were talking about the status of the embryo. He said to me, “Look, what’s your problem? Early on in life that’s just undifferentiated cells and they start to differentiate, but it’s just a blob, a complex of cells.”
I said, “That’s your philosophy though. Try and see it from my perspective. That is life, but what kind of life? It’s not plant life. It’s not fish life. It’s not animal life. It’s human life. And if you allow that life to develop, without interfering, you get a human being made in the image of God. Tell me by what authority can you interfere with that?
It depends on your worldview. What the world is very slowly waking up to is that concepts of right and wrong are actually worldview determined to a very large extent. Richard Dawkins actually denies that they exist, which is very odd for a person who thinks that Christianity is evil.
Dostoyevsky once said, “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.” He didn’t mean atheists can’t behave. Of course they can; they’re made in the image of God. But he meant there’s no rational base for morality if there isn’t a God.
Does morality come simply horizontally? The answer is no. If you trace the origin of morality in scripture you’ll find God defined it at the beginning. And that is staggeringly important. “Don’t eat from that tree. You can eat of everything else. But in the day you do you’ll surely die.”
The mess our world is in is a result of that grasping of human autonomy—that I have a right to define what is right and what is wrong. That is where it all started.
We need to see a very big picture here. We don’t have time to go into all the questions of abortion, but we need to know what the central issue is. For me the dignity that you have is conferred by the statement that you are made in the image of God. Have you ever thought what that means? The universe is glorious. It shows God’s glory. It is not made in His image. You are. And that gives you infinite dignity. What the battle is about is human dignity.
Life, Babies and the Gifts of God
Human dignity. When I think about the battle for our children’s souls, this one issue keeps coming up. My friend Sean dearly loves his grown son. They argue about politics (sometimes rather forcefully), but I know how proud he is of this young man. Recently another friend said to that son, “Your dad is sure proud of you!” The young man countered, “No he’s not!” I find this so sad. Somehow it’s essential to let your children know you’re proud of them— establish in them an assurance of intrinsic value—that dignity from being created in the image of God, that confidence that they are loved, and that you’re proud of them.
God has a lot to say about babies and the gift they are to their parents. Here are some things I’ve found—things you can share with your children when talking about the value of their lives, or life in general. In the Bible, God says He gave Abraham Isaac, and He gave Isaac Jacob and Esau. He chose the time of their conception and they were His gift to their parents. Scripture says before the beginning of time, we were in His heart. And, according to Psalm 139, He knit (some say “embroidered”) us together in our mother’s womb. Sounds like that zygote, the newly joined God-ordained unique combination of sperm and egg, is a life to me. And the most amazing and sobering thought is that the newly created life is eternal. It wasn’t before, but as soon as God gives it life, it will never die. I know many wonderful artists, writers, musicians and other creative people, but nothing, nothing, nothing rivals the creative power we humans have to participate in the engendering of new human beings. I believe that kind of creative power is the most mind-boggling aspect of what it means for us to be made in the image of God.
Tragically, there’s late term abortion and, worse yet, those places on Earth where the mother and the doctor, if the baby is born alive, can choose whether to kill it or not. What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, if you’re a true Darwinist. It’s not a human being. It’s the “product of conception,” a mass of matter and energy with no soul and no value. So go ahead and kill it.
Certainly not everyone who reads Darwin turns into an atheist, an ethnic cleanser sterilizing or killing everyone who is inconvenient, a drain on society, or doesn’t meet the standard of excellence required to be fit to breed. Some evolutionists are fanatical and hostile to God, and they’re the ones I want you to be aware of, since most of those seem to populate positions of authority in schools, college, universities, and research institutions. When your kids go to school, those operating from a worldview of scientific materialism can be bombastic and demeaning of other beliefs, but it’s also important for you and your children to know that the rest of the population doesn’t live or think that way. We don’t want to get into the “us” and “them” mentality that makes enemies out of a specific category of people with beliefs violently different from ours. Caution and discernment are necessary, but not hatred and dehumanizing into baby-killing monsters with vile agendas. How we talk about abortionists will affect how our children think and talk about them as well. Are we helping them see them as Jesus does? We need to remember always that Jesus loves them as much as He loves us, and we can pray for them to wake up, see what they’re doing, and ask the Lord to awaken in them the accurate moral compass He put in each individual heart. There are also many who are staunch evolutionists who don’t actually live in accordance with its tenets. Not when it comes down to it in person.
There is an internal moral compass God has placed in every human heart. We know inside ourselves that each human life has value. I think of Joni Earekson, who broke her neck at age 17 and thereafter has spent her entire life in a wheelchair, a quadruplegic unable to feed herself, live alone, take care of herself. According to the guide at Hadmar, she would be considered a worthless eater. According to situational ethics, she should have been the first one dumped out of the lifeboat. I also think of a number of other disabled people—a standup comic with cerebral palsy who uses his spastic muscles as advantages in his humor, not demeaning CP people, but helping us all laugh together at the inside humor. It takes the discomfort out of that kind of disability and helps us all remember we are humans no matter how unruly our bodies.
So how can anyone throw anyone away? How can we think of any human being as a worthless eater? Scripture says people can harden their hearts. They can silence their internal moral compass. They can talk themselves out of seeing the truth that’s right in front of them.
There’s a scene in The Magician’s Nephew in which the magician is watching Aslan singing the inhabitants of Narnia into being. At first, the magician hears the song, but soon decides a lion cannot be singing, so it must be roaring. Lewis writes, “The problem with trying to make yourself more stupid than you really are is you often succeed.” Soon all the magician can hear are frightening growls and roars, and all he wants to do is get a big gun and kill the horrible wild beast.
There is actually biblical precedent for that. On the Damascus road, Paul has been knocked down. Jesus speaks to him as he lies in the dust, unable to see. Some of his companions hear thunder. Some hear angels. And Paul hears words—to be more accurate, he hears THE Word. And it changes him forever. Now he can see others, even the worst idolators and most crooked of rulers, even the trained killers of Caesar elite Praetorian guard, and the jailer who beat him, as people Jesus created and loves and wants to draw to Himself. Paul spends his life helping Jesus do just that. And so can we.