Apologetics: Atheism, Secularism, Deism
>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles
By Chuck Colson
Christopher Hitchens’s new book, God Is Not Great, is subtitled How Religion Poisons Everything. Everything is a big word, but I guess Hitchens means it. According to him, “religion makes people do wicked things they wouldn’t ordinarily do . . . the licenses for genocide, slavery, racism, are all right there in the holy text.”
By “holy text” he means the Bible, which raises a difficult question for people like Hitchens: If Christianity “licenses” slavery, then why was the abolition of slavery, both in antiquity and in modern times, driven by Christians?
As I write in my new book, The Faith, about to be published early next year, in the first-century Roman Empire, slavery was a fact of life—one which the writings of the New Testament reflect. But acknowledging social reality is not the same thing as “licensing” it.
When the Apostle Paul declared that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” he planted the seeds that would, one day, lead to the demise of the institution of slavery. Likewise, Paul’s inclusion of “slave traders” among those he identified as “lawbreakers” made it clear what he thought about slavery.
Historian Rodney Stark writes about the Church’s embrace around about the third century of what he calls “a universalistic conception of humanity.” This conception “[liberated] social relations between the sexes and within the family” and “greatly modulated class differences . . . “ As Stark puts it, “more than rhetoric was involved when slave and noble greeted one another as brothers in Christ.”
Given this liberating ideal, it was only a matter of time before Christians sought to remove slavery from the Christian culture entirely. By the Middle Ages, it was agreed that “no man, no real Christian at any rate . . . could thereafter legitimately be held as the property of another.”
It is true that Christians have not always lived up to these teachings: The record of the Church is not without blemish. But it is also true that when Christians kept and traded slaves, they were going against the teachings of their own religion. The theological question had long been settled.
Thus, when Spanish and Portuguese traders brought slavery to the New World, successive popes condemned the practice and even threatened to excommunicate slave traders and slave holders. The fact that they could not force European monarchs to obey them should not be held against Christianity—especially not by those who complain about Christians trying to impose their religion on others.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fight against slavery and the slave trade was led by Christians like William Wilberforce in Britain and William Garrison in America. Like their early Church counterparts, they were motivated by Christian teaching on human dignity and equality.
Hitchens’s assertion that economic factors and not Christian abolitionists did away with slavery is, to put it mildly, absurd. Wilberforce and company succeeded despite the economic interests, not because of them.
True, there are shameful episodes in Christian history. But what makes them shameful is the failure of Christians to live up to what Christianity requires—not what Hitchens imagines as its “licenses.”
How odd, then, that Hitchens and other militant atheists feel they have license to distort the facts when arguing against religion.
One of the biggest obstacles facing what’s called the “New Atheism” is the issue of morality. Writers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have to convince people that morals and values are possible in a society that does not believe in God.
It’s important to understand what is not in doubt: whether an individual atheist or agnostic can be a “good” person. Of course they can, just as a professing Christian can do bad things.
The issue is whether the secular worldview can provide a basis for a good society. Can it motivate and inspire people to be virtuous and generous?
Not surprisingly, Richard Dawkins offers a “yes”—grounded in Darwinism. According to him, natural selection has produced a moral sense that is shared by all people. While our genes may be, in his words “selfish,” there are times when cooperation with others is the selfish gene’s best interest. Thus, according to him, natural selection has produced what we call altruism.
Except, of course, that it is not altruism at all: It is, at most, enlightened self-interest. It might explain why “survival of the fittest” is not an endless war of all against all, but it offers no reason as to why someone might give up their lives or even their lifestyle for the benefit of others, especially those whom they do not even know.
Darwinist accounts of human morality bear such little resemblance to the way real people live their lives that the late philosopher David Stove, an atheist himself, called them a “slander against human beings.”
Being unable to account for human altruism is not enough for Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation. In a recent debate with Rick Warren, he complained about Christians “contaminating” their altruistic deeds in places like Africa with “religious ideas” like “the divinity of Jesus.” Instead of rejoicing at the alleviation of suffering, he frets over someone hearing the Gospel.
In response, Warren pointed out the inconvenient (for Harris, that is) truth: You won’t find many atheists feeding the hungry and ministering to the sick in places like Africa or Mother Teresa’s Calcutta. It is precisely because people believe in the divinity of Jesus that they are willing to give up their lives (sometimes literally) in service to those whom Jesus calls “His brothers.” And that’s why my colleagues and I spend our lives ministering in prisons.
In contrast, the record of avowedly atheistic regimes is, shall we say, less than inspiring. Atheist regimes like the Soviet Union, Red China, and Cambodia killed tens of millions of people in an effort to establish an atheistic alternative to the City of God. For men like Stalin and Mao, people were expendable precisely because they were not created in the image of a personal God. Instead, they were objects being manipulated by impersonal historical forces.
One atheist understood the moral consequences of his unbelief: That was Nietzsche, who argued that God is dead, but acknowledged that without God there could be no binding and objective moral order.
Of course, the “New Atheists” deny this. Instead, they unconvincingly argue that you can have the benefits of an altruistic, Christian-like morality without God.
Nietzsche would laugh—and wonder why they don’t make atheists like they used to.
By Chuck Colson
In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that religious belief is—what else?—delusional. He mocks the irrationality of believing in something that you cannot subject to scientific scrutiny; he rails against the so-called “immorality” of the Bible, like the sanctioning of slavery—untrue—and the alleged way that religion, especially Christianity, stands in the way of scientific progress—also untrue.
Just in case his readers are not convinced, however, he then pulls out the really big gun: Religious belief is a kind of child abuse.
By “child abuse” Dawkins is not, at least not principally, referring to the scandals involving sexual misconduct by Catholic priests. He means that teaching a child about Christianity can damage them psychologically and emotionally.
According to Dawkins, however “odious” sexual abuse is, he “suspect[s] that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place.”
The “mental abuse” Dawkins refers to is the result of teaching children that nonbelievers will spend eternity in Hell. Dawkins calls this doctrine “an extreme threat of violence and pain” and “mental terrorism.” He rhetorically asks, “If you can sue for the long-term mental damage caused by physical child abuse, why should you not sue for the long-term mental damage caused by mental child abuse?”
Obviously, what Dawkins writes about Catholicism is equally true about any Christian tradition whose teaching is grounded in Scripture.
Dawkins’s accusations of child abuse are so absurd that it is hard to take them seriously. But someone will, so it is important to correct the record.
Yes, Christianity teaches that there is a Hell and that the unrepentant wicked will spend eternity there. But it also teaches that through His death and resurrection, Jesus freed those who believe in Him from that fate. To leave Jesus’ saving work out of any discussion of Hell is a distortion of Christian teaching.
What is also unfair is to criticize Christianity for its teachings on the afterlife without discussing the atheistic alternative presumably preferred by Dawkins and the other “new Atheists”: that is, when we die, we become worm food, and the universe soon forgets that we ever existed.
Now, that’s the stuff of real childhood nightmares! The idea that there is nothing beyond the grave is the stuff of countless anxieties. And, as Dostoevsky wrote, without belief in a God who judges us, human evil goes unchecked—that is, there is no justice.
In addition, Dawkins’s account of the effects of religion on children is, to put it mildly, incomplete. Surely, there is more to religion and children than teaching them about Hell.
There certainly is: Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton studied the impact of religious practice on American teenagers. They found kids who were described as “devoted” or “regular” participants in religious activities did better than their un-churched counterparts. They did better at school; they were more active in the community; and, contrary to what Dawkins says, they scored higher on measures of “emotional well-being.”
In other words, Dawkins is completely wrong about the impact of faith on our kids—so wrong that, if he were consistent, he really might call atheism a form of “child abuse.”
By Chuck Colson
I’ve got to hand it to the new wave of militant atheists like Christopher Hitchens and arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins. They are getting their message out, in best-selling books and in page-one articles in major newspapers like the Washington Post. Their message is simple: There is no God, and people who believe there is a God are simply being irrational. But is faith in God truly irrational?
The much-respected philosopher Alvin Plantinga is well-versed in the arguments employed by these atheists. He has debated his secular colleagues many times on the question: “Is it reasonable to presuppose that God exists?”
Their response, of course, is “no” because they believe only in physical phenomena and a material universe. Plantinga then asks them whether it is rational to believe that other people have minds. After all, there is scarcely more material evidence that other people have minds, as distinct from brains, than there is for God’s existence.
When the philosophers say “yes,” Plantinga argues that believing in God is just as rational as believing that other people have minds: Both conclusions reflect a faith of sorts.
There are other reasons why belief in God is rational, which I discuss in The Faith, my new book, to be published in January. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the universe is the product of intelligence, not chance.
What’s called the “anthropic principle” says intelligent life is possible only because of a precise combination of “seemingly arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics.” As one physicist put it, it is as if the “universe knew we were coming.” And the billions of human cells that make up our body, we know function only because of intelligent information.
This and similar evidence make belief in God far from an irrational leap in the dark, much less a delusion, as Dawkins says. Even atheist Richard Dawkins admits that there is a one-in-seven chance that God might exist. He simply chooses to take, as he sees it, the six-in-seven chances that God does not exist. That’s a bad bet.
The great philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote that if there is no God, and you bet your life there is, you have lost nothing. But if there is a God, and you bet your life there is not, you have made an eternal mistake. Or put it this way: If Dr. Dawkins had been on the Titanic and was offered two lifeboats—one certain to sink and the other with a one-in-seven chance of staying afloat—he would not have chosen the one that was sure to sink. That would be irrational.
But there is another kind of evidence for the rationality of belief in God: that is, its impact on human lives and society.
As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, people noticed that, compared to the squalor and general hopelessness of Rome, Christians lived a profoundly different, more hopeful life. This difference made conversion to Christianity a rational choice.
The same thing is true today: Studies of evangelization show that people come to Christianity because it delivers the results. It changes families, which atheistic worldviews cannot.
All of this and more makes belief in God rational and makes one wonder what’s behind disbelief. Philosopher Mortimer Adler, one of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century, believed Christianity was true, but refused to accept it because it would interfere with his lifestyle. In time, he overcame that objection and became a Christian, which, given the evidence, was the only rational thing to do.
In a recent issue of Scientific American, arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss discussed the relationship between science and religion.
Dawkins, whose latest book, The God Delusion, is only one of a slew of recent books attacking religious beliefs, prefers an “in your face” approach. He once wrote that “if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane.” He then added “or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that.”
In his discussion with Krauss, Dawkins stood by his statement, calling it “a simple and sober statement of fact.”
For his part, Krauss prefers to “reach out” to people and “understand where they are coming from”—not so that he might learn from them: Like Dawkins, he assumes that the people in question have little, if anything, to teach him. Rather, his goal is to “seduce” them into “understanding” and accepting scientific truths.
Thus Krauss says that “telling people . . . that their deepest beliefs are simply silly—even if they are” is counterproductive.
As you may have inferred from the “even if they are,” Krauss does not deny that religious belief is “irrational.” He simply thinks that religion is too deeply ingrained to be done away with. Better to help people “moderate” their beliefs and “cut out the most irrational and harmful aspects of religious fundamentalism.”
All of this begs the question: “Is faith, in particular, Christianity, irrational?”
Neither Dawkins nor Krauss comes close to proving this. Instead, Dawkins and Krauss simply assume that materialism—the idea that there is nothing besides matter—is true. Thus, what makes a faith “rational” is whether it can be proven empirically.
Dawkins and Krauss do not offer any arguments to justify their assumptions. They do not tell us why materialism is true: Instead, they ask you to take its truth as a given—in other words, on faith.
Speaking of faith, what Dawkins means by the word faith is, to put it politely, idiosyncratic. His technique, on display in the Scientific American piece, is to find the most extreme, fringe Christian positions and ascribe them to all Christians. He then cites these beliefs as proof that all Christian faith is irrational.
Reading their discussion or anything else associated with Dawkins and what is being called the “New Atheism,” you would not know that many of the greatest scientific discoveries were made by people of faith—not scientists who happened to be Christians, but people whose faith inspired and informed their scientific endeavors.
The work of physicists like Krauss would not be possible without Michael Faraday’s work in electromagnetism. Faraday was a devout Christian who believed nature to be intelligible because it was created and upheld by a God who made Himself known in both His Word and in nature.
Rodney Stark, the eminent sociologist, writes that Christianity rescued reason. Christians saw reason as a gift of a rational God, and it could, therefore, be used to explore the universe and world that God had made. This belief made modern science possible.
If you meet someone who says your Christian faith is irrational, ask him to explain the basis of his faith.
This is part five in a five-part series.
By Dennis Prager
Last week, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote a column titled “Secular Europe’s Merits,” in which he explained why he prefers the secularism of Europe to the religiosity of America.
To his credit (other New York Times columnists do not generally agree to debate anything they write — Paul Krugman, for example, has refused to discuss his new book on liberalism with me), Cohen agreed to come on my show, and proved to be a charming guest.
A distinguished foreign correspondent for Reuters and the International Herald Tribune, Cohen nevertheless betrayed what I believe is endemic to those who favor Europe’s secularism to America’s religiosity — emotion rather than reason.
Here are some of the points from his opinion piece followed by my responses.
Cohen: “The Continent has paid a heavy price in blood for religious fervor and decided some time ago, as a French king put it, that ‘Paris is well worth a Mass.’”
There is no doubt that Western Europe abandoned religion and opted for secularism largely because of the blood spilled in religious wars, just as it abandoned nationalism because of all the blood it spilled in the name of nationalism during World War I.
However, Cohen and others who argue for a secular society ignore the even heavier price in blood Europe has paid for secular fervor. Secular fervor, i.e., communism and Nazism, slaughtered, tortured and enslaved more people in 50 years than all Europe’s religious wars did in the course of centuries.
This point is so obvious, and so devastating to the pro-secularists, that you wonder how they deal with it. But having debated secularists for decades, I predicted Cohen’s response virtually word for word on my radio show the day before I spoke with him. He labeled communism and Nazism “religions.”
This response completely avoids the issue. Communism and Nazism were indeed religion-like in their hold on people, but they were completely secular movements and doctrines. Moreover, communism was violently anti-religious, and Nazism affirmed pre-Christian — what we tend to call “pagan” — values and beliefs.
In fact, the emergence of communism and Nazism in an increasingly secular Europe is one of the most powerful arguments for the need for Judeo-Christian religions. Europe’s two secular totalitarian systems perfectly illustrate what G.K. Chesterton predicted a hundred years ago: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”
Cohen: “The U.S. culture wars have produced . . . ‘the injection of religion into politics in a very overt way.’”
Cohen gives no examples, and though this charge is constantly repeated by many on the left, I have yet to figure out what exactly these critics mean. Do they mean, for example, that those who deem abortion immoral and wish to ban it (except to save the mother’s life or in the cases of incest or rape) have injected religion into politics? If so, why is this objectionable?
What are those who derive their values from religion supposed to do — stay out of the political process? Are only those who derive their values from secular sources or their own hearts allowed to attempt to influence the political process? It seems that this is precisely what Cohen and other secularists argue. But they are not even consistent here. I recall no secularist who protested that those, like the Rev. Martin Luther King, who used religion to fight for black equality “injected religion into politics in a very overt way.”
The leftist argument against religious Americans’ “injection of religion into politics” is merely its way of trying to keep only the secular and religious left in the political arena — and the religious right, primarily evangelical Christians, out.
Cohen: “Much too overt for Europeans, whose alarm at George W. Bush’s presidency has been fed by his allusions to divine guidance — ‘the hand of a just and faithful God’ in shaping events, or his trust in ‘the ways of Providence.’”
Cohen and his fellow Europeans sound paranoid here. President Bush has invoked God less than most presidents in American history, and the examples Cohen offers are thoroughly innocuous.
Cohen: “Such beliefs seem to remove decision-making from the realm of the rational at the very moment when the West’s enemy acts in the name of fanatical theocracy.”
At least in my lifetime, it is the secular left that has embraced far more irrationality than the religious right. It was people on the secular left, not anyone on the religious right, who found Marxism, one of the most irrational doctrines in history, rational. It was only on the secular left that people morally equated the United States and the Soviet Union. It was secular leftists, not religious Jews or Christians, who believed the irrational nonsense that men and women were basically the same.
It is overwhelmingly among the secular (and religious) left that people have bought into the myriad irrational hysterias of my lifetime — without zero population growth humanity will begin to starve, huge mortality rates in America from heterosexual AIDS, mass death caused by secondhand smoke, and now destruction of the planet by man-induced global warming. It is extremely revealing that with regard to global warming scenarios of man-induced doom, the world’s most powerful religious figure, Pope Benedict XVI, has just warned against accepting political dogma in the guise of science. We’ll see who turns out to be more rational on this issue — the secular left or the religious right. I bet everything on the religious.
There is no question but that most religious people have irrational religious views. However, as I wrote in my last column, theology and values are not the same. I am convinced that the human being is programmed to believe in the non-rational. The healthy religious confine their irrationality to their theologies and are quite rational on social issues. On the other hand, vast numbers of secular people in the West have done the very opposite — rejected irrational religiosity and affirmed irrational social beliefs. [KH: nice quote !!]
By Dinesh D’Souza
It seems atheists have developed a comprehensive strategy to win the minds of the next generation. The strategy can be described simply: let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’ beliefs. Many people think that the secularization of the minds of our young people is the inevitable consequence of learning and maturing. In fact, it is to a large degree orchestrated by teachers and professors to promote anti-religious agendas.
Why the hostility to religion? “Faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate,” writes Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of
Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poins Everything, writes, “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?” Religion, he charges, has “always hoped to practice upon the unformed and undefended minds of the young.” He wistfully concludes, “If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”
If religion is so bad, what should be done about it? It should be eradicated. According to Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, belief in Christianity is like belief in slavery (also the book Letter to a Christian Nation). “I would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not seem good. Still the same could have been said about efforts to abolish slavery at the end of the eighteenth century.”
But how should religion be eliminated? Our atheist educators have a short answer: through the power of science. “I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I’m all for that,” says physicist Steven Weinberg. If scientists can destroy the influence of religion on young people, “then I think it may be the most important contribution that we can make.”
One way in which science can undermine the plausibility of religion, according to biologist E.O. Wilson, is by showing that the mind itself is the product of evolution and that free moral choice is an illusion. “If religion…can be systematically analyzed and explained as a product of the brain’s evolution, its power as an external source of morality will be gone forever.”
By abolishing all transcendent or supernatural truths, science can establish itself as the only source of truth, our only access to reality. The objective of science education, according to biologist Richard Lewontin, “is not to provide the public with knowledge of how far it is to the nearest star and what genes are made of.” Rather, “the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, science, as the only begetter of truth.”
What, then, happens to religion? Philosopher Daniel Dennett suggests that “our religious traditions should certainly be preserved, as should the languages, the art, the costumes, the rituals, the monuments. Zoos are now more or less seen as second class havens for endangered species, but at least they are havens, and what they preserve is irreplaceable.”
How is all this to be achieved? The answer is simple: through indoctrination in the schools. In his book Breaking the Spell, Dennett urges that schools teach religion as a purely natural phenomenon. By this he means that religion should be taught as if it were untrue. Dennett argues that religion is like sports or cancer, “a human phenomenon composed of events, organisms, objects, structures, patterns.” By studying religion on the premise that there is no supernatural truth underlying it, Dennett argues that young people will come to accept religion as a social creation pointing to nothing higher than human hopes and aspirations.
As for atheism, Sam Harris argues that it should be taught as a mere extension of science and logic. “Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious….Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”
Of course, parents—especially Christian parents—might want to say something about all this. That’s why the atheist educators are now raising the question of whether parents should have control over what their children learn. Dawkins asks, “How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents? It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods? Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought out?”
Dennett remarks that “some children are raised in such an ideological prison that they willingly become their own jailers…forbidding themselves any contact with the liberating ideas that might well change their minds.” The fault, he adds, lies with the parents who raised them. “Parents don’t literally own their children the way slaveowners once owned slaves, but are, rather, their stewards and guardians and ought to be held accountable by outsiders for their guardianship, which does imply that outsiders have a right to interfere.”
Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey argued in a recent lecture that just as Amnesty International works to liberate political prisoners around the world, secular teachers and professors should work to free children from the damaging influence of their parents’ religious instruction. “Parents have no god-given license to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.”
Philosopher Richard Rorty argued that secular professors in the universities ought “to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” Rorty noted that students are fortunate to find themselves under the control “of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.” Indeed, parents who send their children to college should recognize that as professors “we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”
This is how many secular teachers treat the traditional beliefs of students. The strategy is not to argue with religious views or to prove them wrong. Rather, it is to subject them to such scorn that they are pushed outside the bounds of acceptable debate. This strategy is effective because young people who go to good colleges are extremely eager to learn what it means to be an educated Harvard man or Stanford woman. Consequently their teachers can very easily steer them to think a certain way merely by making that point of view seem fashionable and enlightened. Similarly, teachers can pressure students to abandon what their parents taught them simply by labeling those positions as simplistic and unsophisticated.
Children spend the majority of their waking hours in school. Parents invest a good portion of their life savings in college education and entrust their offspring to people who are supposed to educate them. Isn’t it wonderful that educators have figured out a way to make parents the instruments of their own undoing? Isn’t it brilliant that they have persuaded Christian moms and dads to finance the destruction of their own beliefs and values? Who said atheists aren’t clever?
[KH: also a receent atheist book by Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto: The Case against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam)
This article is adapted from What’s So Great About Christianity, which is just published by Regnery.
The signs are everywhere. Many of America’s top-selling books right now are angry, in-your-face, atheist manifestos. Judges try to outdo each other in banning references to God like the Ten Commandments and the “Under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance. And nearly half of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, would be willing to vote for an atheist for president of the United States of America – a nation founded by devout Christians.
In its groundbreaking September edition, titled “THE RISE OF ATHEIST AMERICA,” WND’s monthly Whistleblower magazine provides a powerfully eye-opening analysis of what’s really behind the current atheist phenomenon.
“This is atheism’s moment,” brags David Steinberger, CEO of Perseus Books, celebrating the tremendous success of anti-God bestsellers like “God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything” by journalist Christopher Hitchens and “The God Delusion” by Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. “Mr. Hitchens has written the category killer,” he says, “and we’re excited about having the next book.” That’s right – this fall the publishing world will further cash in on the anti-God juggernaut with the release of “The Pocket Atheist,” featuring the writings of famous atheists, edited by Hitchens.
In earlier eras, atheists were on the fringes of society, mistrusted by the mainstream. Those few who dared to publicly push their beliefs on society, like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, were widely regarded as malevolent kooks. But today, Hitchens’ No. 1 New York Times bestseller, which has dominated the nonfiction charts for months, boldly condemns religion – including Christianity – as “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”
Indeed, arrogant denial of God and condemnation of religious people characterize today’s popular atheist books, which besides Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ bestsellers include “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris, sequel to his earlier bestseller “The End of Faith,” as well as “God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist” by Victor J. Stenger, “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” by Daniel C. Dennett, “Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism” by David Mills and others.
“How can this be happening?,” you might wonder. “Hasn’t America always been a Christian nation?”
No question about it. America was founded by Christians. Its very purpose for being was the furtherance of biblical Christianity, according to the Pilgrims and succeeding generations. The nation’s school system was created for the express purpose of propagating the Christian faith. Almost all of the Founding Fathers who drafted and signed the Constitution were Christian believers. Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Josiah Brewer, in the high court’s 1892 “Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States” decision, proclaimed what was then considered obvious to just about everyone: “This is a Christian nation.”
Today, however, many Americans are infatuated with outright, full-bore atheism. In fact, Dawkins, the Oxford scientist who wrote “The God Delusion,” is even selling young people “Scarlet Letter” tee-shirts with a giant “A” – for “atheist” – on his website (and bumper stickers too). Somehow, atheism – just like homosexuality, which used to be considered shameful and something to hide – is now becoming hip, sophisticated, enlightened, even a badge of honor.
Here are just a few highlights of “THE RISE OF ATHEIST AMERICA”:
* “When men forget God” by Joseph Farah
* “Why atheist books are best-sellers” by Dennis Prager, who points out that worldwide Islamic jihad has “brought religious faith into terrible disrepute”
* “Would you vote for an atheist as president?” – on the results of a surprising national survey
* “How to outlaw Christianity” by Chuck Norris, who says 30 million Americans profess there is no God, and shows how atheist organizations are working to undermine Christianity
* “Dawkins: Religion equals ‘child abuse,’” in which the Oxford scientist compares Moses to Hitler and calls the New Testament a “sado-masochistic doctrine”
* “Separation of atheism and state” by Bob Just, who explores the nightmare scenario America is headed for – and also points the way out
* “The atheism mystique” by David Kupelian, who takes readers on an eye-opening guided tour of the spiritual battlefield between faith and denial.
* “Atheist sues priest for claiming Jesus Christ existed” by Joe Kovacs, who profiles a bizarre case where the plaintiff demands proof Jesus was a real person
* “Convict sues God for broken contract” – that’s right, criminal claims he expected divine protection from evil, but that instead, God “gave me to Satan”
* “Teachers rebel over atheism promotion” by Bob Unruh, who profiles a school district that makes teachers dispense handouts promoting atheist summer camps for children
* “A rabbi’s warning to U.S. Christians” by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
* … and much more.
“Many Americans are becoming attracted to atheism,” said WND Managing Editor David Kupelian, “and there are real reasons for it – reasons we need to understand if we ever hope to see a return to ‘faith, hope and love.’ Whistleblower has managed to distill a lot of crucial information and insights into this very readable, thought-provoking and inspiring issue.”
“It need not further be denied,” argued James Orr, “that between this view of the world involved in Christianity, and what is sometimes called ‘the modern view of the world’ there exists a deep and radical antagonism.” James Orr observed this ‘deep and radical antagonism’ over a century ago. Can we possibly fail to see it now?
As Christians, we are unavoidably engaged in a great battle of worldviews—a conflict over the most basic issues of truth and meaning. A worldview that starts with the existence and sovereign authority of the self-revealing God of the Bible will be diametrically opposed to worldviews that deny God or engage in what we might call ‘defining divinity down.’
At the heart of this controversy lies the irreducible obstacle of biblical authority. As a matter of fact, it may be impossible to overestimate the true depth of postmodern antipathy to the Bible—at least to the Bible as an authoritative revelation from God.
Just consider what the modern secular mind confronts in the Bible. At the foundational level, the Bible makes a “totalizing” claim to truth. In the terminology of postmodern academic discourse, this means that the Bible claims to present absolute and non-negotiable truth that effectively trumps all other authorities. In an intellectual context of personal autonomy and individual self-expression, this appears to represent an unfair imposition of authority and a violation of the contract theory that lies at the heart of the modern experiment. We can “contract” with the Bible to serve as a guide, but that contract is open to constant renegotiation.
And the Bible contains so much material that runs against the moral sense of a largely-secularized society. Let’s just be honest and admit right up front that the Bible pulls no punches and leaves no room for a public relations effort to clean up the dust storm. The Bible begins with a straight-forward declaration of divine creation, complete with a divine design for every aspect of the created order. Then, we confront the creation of human beings as made in the image of God, and thus uniquely gifted and accountable as moral and spiritual creatures. And, we add, human beings are made male and female to the glory of the Creator. There it is—gender as part of the goodness of God’s creation. This is no vision of gender differences as mere social construction. Marriage immediately follows as the divinely-designed institution for human ordering, reproduction, sexuality, and romantic fulfillment. Marriage—the union of one man and one woman—is presented as an objective reality constituted as a moral covenant with legal and moral boundaries, not as a contract to be made, remade, or unmade at will.
Then comes sin. The third chapter of Genesis clearly fails to meet muster in terms of modern psychotherapeutic expectations. Responsibility for sin is laid right at human feet; and the consequences of sin—downright repressive—are worse than draconian. Most troubling of all, sin is presented as something that tells the truth about us—not merely the truth about a sinful world system. From beginning to end, the Bible undermines the modern secular worldview at its very foundation.
Those first four words land like nitroglycerin on the modern mind: “In the beginning, God . . . .” From that point onward, everything flows from the fundamental reality of God’s existence, power, and purpose. Creation itself is explained as the theater for God’s own glory, even as human beings, male and female, are created in God’s image. The institution of marriage is shown to be God’s gift and command, not a sociological adaptation to prevailing cultural conditions. Humans are given responsibility as both stewards and rulers of the earth, ordered to subdue the earth to the Creator’s glory.
Of course, to the postmodern mind, Genesis is hopelessly “speciesist” even as (to use their language) it presents a “totalizing meta-narrative of hegemonistic authoritarianism.” In other words, it tells us in no uncertain terms that God is God and we are not, even as it reveals that humanity fulfills a special purpose for God’s glory.
The Pentateuch—all five books—presents an unvarnished picture of humanity’s sin and its consequences. To a culture deeply committed to a therapeutic worldview, this is just too much. Now that sin has been banished from our moral vocabulary, what are postmodern Americans to do with the Fall, the giving of the Law, the sacrificial system and blood atonement? Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac is now cited by postmodern critics as the Bible’s second most egregious example of God-inspired child abuse (the first, of course, is the cross of Christ).
The Law is another stone of stumbling for the modern mind. Moral relativism rules the field of postmodern ethics, with laws seen as socially constructed and needlessly oppressive instruments of subjugation. In many law schools, a movement known as “critical legal theory” claims that laws generally reveal hidden claims of manipulative power that should be de-constructed for the betterment of all humankind. Thus, consistent with the postmodernist’s complete embrace of subjectivity, laws exist to be endlessly renegotiated and reinterpreted.
Of course, one of the most cherished maxims of the postmodern mind is the so-called “death of the author.” The reader, not the author, of a text is the ruling authority. Put simply, the postmodernist believes that the text means what the reader says it means, not what the author intended. Jump from that to this: “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it might go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.” [Deuteronomy 5:32-33] So much for subjectivity, reinterpretation, and renegotiation! The postmodernist demands a hermeneutic of suspicion, demanding that the text meet his expectations. The Bible sets down a hermeneutic of submission as God demands obedience from His people—nothing less.
The Bible presents the living God, Creator of the entire cosmos, as a speaking God who addresses His people with authoritative revelation. “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?” [Deuteronomy 4:33] As Israel was to learn, revelation must lead to obedience, lest God’s wrath fall upon the people.
The Lord does not invite His covenant people to speculate about His character, His power, or His purpose. He demands total obedience, even as He reveals his saving purpose and His sets down covenant. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before me.” [Exodus 20:2-3]
The rest of the Old Testament continues the pattern and widens the divide. God elects Israel as His chosen people, inviting charges of ethnocentrism. Then, violating modern norms of war, Israel is charged to wage a holy war against pagan nations. God is presented as the supreme ruler of all nations, the only true Sovereign in a world of contending kingdoms. The prophets attack injustice and the abuse of privilege, within and without.
To these must be added claims of miracles, supernatural occurrences, prophets, and impositions of law. All this amounts to one great obstacle for so many modern people, whose worldview is so firmly established in secular terms that the Bible seems more of a problem than a solution.
And what of the New Testament? Instead of refuting the Old Testament, the New Testament fulfills the Old, pushing the envelope of secular suspicion even further. Now we confront the great claim of the incarnation—that Jesus the Christ is fully God and fully man. Miracles are documented, the teaching of Jesus is presented in full force, and the Gospel is laid before our eyes.
Then come the cross and the empty tomb. God’s determinative plan to save His people from sin come to a climax in the suffering and death of Christ, presented as God’s plan set into action before the creation of the earth. The empty cross points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the truth claims of the Gospel contradict any effort to reduce Jesus to a mere teacher or guide, a social activist or a proto-therapist.
The church is established as God’s people on earth; an eschatological people eventually drawn from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. And then, looming in the future, lies judgment. The realities of Heaven and Hell are presented as dual destinations for humanity, and the wrath of God is promised to be poured out upon sinners, even as the mercy of God is extended to all who have come to Christ by faith. The way to salvation is narrow; the road to destruction is wide. There is but one Savior and one way of salvation.
All this is just too much for the postmodern mind to handle. A “deep and radical antagonism” separates the Bible and our postmodern culture. But then, since the Fall that antagonism has always existed, separating obedience to God’s truth from the demand for human autonomy.
Christians are often perplexed by resistance to the Bible and to the Gospel. We tend to distance ourselves from the reality that the Bible sounds so exceedingly strange to modern and postmodern ears. We underestimate the distance of the divide between biblical Christianity and secular worldviews.
All this should remind us of our constant evangelistic and apologetic task—and of the fact that salvation is all by grace. After all, it’s not that we were smart enough to wade through all this and emerge as believers. Instead, our eyes were opened so that we would see. That radical antagonism James Orr was talking about isn’t overcome by force of argument and persuasion alone, but by grace. As we engage in the controversies and debates of this age, we had better keep that great fact always in the forefront of our thinking.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”
As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these:
1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”
As a matter of fact, the researchers, whose report is summarized in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, found that American teenagers are incredibly inarticulate about their religious beliefs, and most are virtually unable to offer any serious theological understanding. As Smith reports, “To the extent that the teens we interviewed did manage to articulate what they understood and believed religiously, it became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it. Either way, it is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both.”
As the researchers explained, “For most teens, nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. ‘Whatever’ is just fine, if that’s what a person wants.”
The casual “whatever” that marks so much of the American moral and theological landscapes—adolescent and otherwise—is a substitute for serious and responsible thinking. More importantly, it is a verbal cover for an embrace of relativism. Accordingly, “most religious teenager’s opinions and views—one can hardly call them worldviews—are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion.”
The kind of responses found among many teenagers indicates a vast emptiness at the heart of their understanding. When a teenager says, “I believe there is a God and stuff,” this hardly represents a profound theological commitment.
Amazingly, teenagers are not inarticulate in general. As the researchers found, “Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were.” The obvious conclusion: “This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager’s lives.”
One other aspect of this study deserves attention at this point. The researchers, who conducted thousands of hours of interviews with a carefully identified spectrum of teenagers, discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult. What does this say about our churches? What does this say about this generation of parents?
In the end, this study indicates that American teenagers are heavily influenced by the ideology of individualism that has so profoundly shaped the larger culture. This bleeds over into a reflexive non-judgmentalism and a reluctance to suggest that anyone might actually be wrong in matters of faith and belief. Yet, these teenagers are unable to live with a full-blown relativism.
The researchers note that many responses fall along very moralistic lines—but they reserve their most non-judgmental attitudes for matters of theological conviction and belief. Some go so far as to suggest that there are no “right” answers in matters of doctrine and theological conviction.
The “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” that these researchers identify as the most fundamental faith posture and belief system of American teenagers appears, in a larger sense, to reflect the culture as a whole. Clearly, this generalized conception of a belief system is what appears to characterize the beliefs of vast millions of Americans, both young and old.
This is an important missiological observation—a point of analysis that goes far beyond sociology. As Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton explained, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about inculcating a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.” In a very real sense, that appears to be true of the faith commitment, insofar as this can be described as a faith commitment, held by a large percentage of Americans. These individuals, whatever their age, believe that religion should be centered in being “nice”—a posture that many believe is directly violated by assertions of strong theological conviction.
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents.” As the researchers explained, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”
In addition, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God. As Smith explains, this amorphous faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs—especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”
Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers. This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”
Obviously, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith. This belief system has no denominational headquarters and no mailing address. Nevertheless, it has millions and millions of devotees across the United States and other advanced cultures, where subtle cultural shifts have produced a context in which belief in such an undemanding deity makes sense. Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called “lifestyle” issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding.
As sociologists, Smith and his team suggest that this Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may now constitute something like a dominant civil religion that constitutes the belief system for the culture at large. Thus, this basic conception may be analogous to what other researchers have identified as “lived religion” as experienced by the mainstream culture.
Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is “colonizing” Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.
Consider this remarkable assessment: “Other more accomplished scholars in these areas will have to examine and evaluate these possibilities in greater depth. But we can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually [only] tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”
They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also “within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.”
How can you tell? “The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.”
Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.
This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self. In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan. Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.
All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully. They have been observing their parents in the larger culture with diligence and insight. They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture. They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.
This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith “once delivered to the saints” is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.
We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity. More urgently, this study should warn us all that our failure to teach this generation of teenagers the realities and convictions of biblical Christianity will mean that their children will know even less and will be even more readily seduced by this new form of paganism. This study offers irrefutable evidence of the challenge we now face. As the motto reminds us, “Knowledge is power.”
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Alister McGrath was more prescient than he knew when he published The Twilight of Atheism earlier this year. One of the most prominent atheists of the last century now says he believes there must be some kind of God, based on scientific evidence. But Antony Flew is careful to say that he’s merely a deist, and rejects any notion of a God of revelation.
“I’m thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins,” he told the Associated Press. “It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose.”
The Associated Press interview is based on a new DVD where Flew describes his change of mind. But those interested will certainly want to check out Philosophia Christi’s interview between Flew and Liberty University’s Gary Habermas.
“I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, although I am open to that. But it seems to me that the case for an Aristotelian God who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence, is now much stronger than it ever was before,” Flew says.
The 5,600-word interview is pretty packed, but it’s worth reading to the end. Or, better yet, why not have Weblog spoil the ending for you? Keep in mind this note from the AP’s Dick Ostling: “Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article ‘Theology and Falsification,’ based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.”
HABERMAS: C. S. Lewis explained in his autobiography that he moved first from atheism to theism and only later from theism to Christianity. Given your great respect for Christianity, do you think that there is any chance that you might in the end move from theism to Christianity?
FLEW: I think it’s very unlikely, due to the problem of evil. But, if it did happen, I think it would be in some eccentric fit and doubtfully orthodox form: regular religious practice perhaps but without belief. If I wanted any sort of future life I should become a Jehovah’s Witness. But some things I am completely confident about. I would never regard Islam with anything but horror and fear because it is fundamentally committed to conquering the world for Islam. It was because the whole of Palestine was part of the land of Islam that Muslim Arab armies moved in to try to destroy Israel at birth, and why the struggle for the return of the still surviving refugees and their numerous descendents continue to this day.
HABERMAS: I ask this last question with a smile, Tony. But just think what would happen if one day you were pleasantly disposed toward Christianity and all of a sudden the resurrection of Jesus looked pretty good to you?
FLEW: Well, one thing I’ll say in this comparison is that, for goodness sake, Jesus is an enormously attractive charismatic figure, which the Prophet of Islam most emphatically is not.
By Dinesh D’Souza
My new book What’s So Great About Christianity, just out, is already an amazon.com bestseller, a Wall Street Journal bestseller and No. 16 on the New York Times bestseller list. On Saturday C-Span broadcast my debate with God Is Not Great author Christopher Hitchens. Many people have commented that this is the best debate on the topic of Christianity v. Atheism that has yet been held. If you haven’t seen it, you can find the debate on my website dineshdsouza.com. Following the debate, AOL posted the video on its main page, and asked people to make up their minds and vote on who won. Modesty prevents me from disclosing the answer.
Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, watched the debate and reported with some agitation that the audience seemed to be applauding more for me than for Hitchens. Dawkins commented on his website that the New York crowd must have been a “dopey” lot. But if you listen to the debate, you will see that both atheists and believers were well represented. The audience applause was initially stronger for Hitchens, and only as the debate went on did it trend markedly toward me. So is Dawkins suggesting that the audience was very intelligent to start with but became more “dopey” as the debate went on? More likely we are seeing evidence of the “Dawkins delusion,” an unwillingness to use good sense and face facts when Dawkins’ own belief system is called into question.
One of the most interesting questions in the debate was posed to Hitchens by a man from Tonga. Before the Christians came to Tonga, he said, the place was a mess. Even cannibalism was widespread. The Christians stopped this practice and brought to Tonga the notion that each person has a soul and God loves everyone equally. The man from Tonga asked Hitchens, “So what do you have to offer us?” Hitchens was taken aback, and responded with a learned disquisition on cannibalism in various cultures. But he clearly missed the intellectual and moral force of the man’s question. The man was asking why the Tongans, who had gained so much from Christianity, should reject it in favor of atheism.
In my response, I noted that when the missionaries came to India, they sometimes converted people by force. Even so, many Indians rushed on their own to embrace the faith of the foreigners. And why? Because they were born into the low caste of the Hindus. As long as they remained Hindus, there was no escape; even their descendants were condemned to the lowest rungs of humanity. By fleeing into the arms of the missionaries, the low-caste Hindus found themselves welcomed as Christian brothers. They discovered the ideal of equal dignity in the eyes of God.
If we look at the history of Western civilization, we find that Christianity has illuminated the greatest achievements of the culture. Read the new atheist books and make a list of the institutions and values that Hitchens and Dawkins and the others cherish the most. They value the idea of the individual, and the right to dissent, and science as an autonomous enterprise, and representative democracy, and human rights, and equal rights for women and racial minorities, and the movement to end slavery, and compassion as a social virtue. But when you examine history you find that all of these values came into the world because of Christianity. If Christianity did not exist, these values would not exist in the form they do now. So there is indeed something great about Christianity, and the honest atheist should be willing to admit this.
By contrast, does it make any sense to say, as Hitchens does in his book’s subtitle, that “religion poisons everything”? Religion didn’t poison Dante or Milton or Donne or Michelangelo or Raphael or Titian or Bach! Religon didn’t poison those unnamed architectural geniuses who built the great Gothic cathedrals. Religion didn’t poison the American founders who were for the most part not Deist but Christian. Religion didn’t poison the anti-slavery campaigns of William Lloyd Garrison or William Wilberforce, or the civil rights activism of the Reverend Martin Luther King. The real question to ask is, what does atheism offer humanity? In Tonga, as in America, the answer appears to be: Nothing.
An NRO Q&A
David Klinghoffer is worried about “the atmosphere of secularism” that “rains down like nuclear fallout, spreading contamination” and offers the Ten Commandments as a “desperately needed diagnostic tool” to combat it. In Shattered Tablets: Why We Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril, Klinghoffer uses his city of Seattle as a snapshot of a ailing culture in need of a back-to-spiritual basics retreat. Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and former literary editor at National Review, recently took questions about the book, his city, and our culture from National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s so sick about Seattle?
David Klinghoffer: Imagine secularism as a religion without a deity. You could hardly find a city more pious in its secularism than Seattle. That’s why I use the Pacific Northwest, where just 30 percent of the people are religiously affiliated, as a case study. I ask what happens to a culture when it detaches ideas about right and wrong from any grounding in a belief in God. The answer is, you get a place like this where, for example, people can’t explain why murder is wrong. My friend Dan Sytman did a series of street interviews on this. Sample reply from a guy standing outside the Federal Building: “Good and evil and right and wrong are simply another way of saying ‘like’ and ‘don’t like.’ So I say, when you ask me about murder, I would say ‘I don’t like murder.’”
Lopez: Is it sicker than New York City, where you previously lived?
Klinghoffer: Yes, isn’t that amazing? I lived in New York under Dinkins and Giuliani, so I saw the moment when New Yorkers got fed up with the rule of the street by the Youths, that wonderful euphemism. In Seattle, the city government — an extension of the citizens — doesn’t believe it has a moral right to clean up the street outside the building where I work. It’s right smack in the middle of the top tourist district but it’s a gathering place of all the city’s scariest Youths, along with meth addicts, crack dealers, stumbling drunks, crazy people, and so on. This neighborhood, in terms of tourist traffic, is the New York equivalent of that stretch of Fifth Avenue from St. Patrick’s up to the museums. New York would never tolerate letting that corridor become the way Seattle’s Pike and Pine Streets are.
Lopez: What could the Ten Commandments do for Seattle?
Klinghoffer: Primarily, teach us how to order moral priorities.
Here’s a vignette of Seattle. The other morning an work-colleague of mine got off the bus at 8:15 — in the A.M., mind you. This was a couple of blocks from our office. First thing she saw was a couple having sex against the side of a fountain across from Westlake Center. She then walked a few feet and saw a huge, shaven-headed, tattoo-covered guy screaming at and threatening a man who was holding a briefcase. She walked a few more steps, and saw a cop. What was the cop doing? Writing out a parking ticket.
Lopez: On that point, explain your statement: “If you want to gauge the moral health of a society, look at its policemen.”
Klinghoffer: The Ten Commandments explain the basis for the authority we need to see, but increasingly don’t find, in politicians, parents, and police. It used to be that these people felt infused with an authority that came from a source much greater than themselves, greater than the government, greater than people. I mean God. The Chinese phrase for this is, “the mandate of Heaven.” In a secularized culture, authority figures such as cops lack confidence in their authority. It’s like a magical spell has been broken. People don’t listen to them, at least not the people who really need to be listening — the bad guys. That’s what you find in Seattle, and elsewhere too of course.
Lopez: What’s “moralesque”?
Klinghoffer: A burlesque of morality. No society can do without a code of rules to live by. It’s our nature. So when they turn away from the ancient code of the Bible, a substitute needs to be found. That’s the code of moralesque. It makes things like health and diet — which traditionally would have been left to personal discretion — into these very, very heavy moral commandments. Being fat isn’t just unwise. It’s a moral offense. Same for smoking, drinking, etc. This is the Purell culture, the peanut-free school culture. Health becomes a substitute theater of moral action, taking the place of the things that really matter.
Lopez: What’s the point of a First Commandment protest rally?
Klinghoffer: Oh, I attended one, though it wasn’t spoken of explicitly. It was a rally for Richard Dawkins, the atheist Darwinist bestseller guy, at Seattle’s town hall. The First Commandment — “I am the Lord your God…” — really sticks in the craw of materialists like Dawkins, much more so than any other of the Ten Commandments. Everyone was bundled in flannel and they were applauding him for applauding them for being such a bunch of sophisticated geniuses who can explain the existence of everything in the universe in purely material terms. This is what Darwinism, a sort of secular religion, is all about. The First Commandment is the focus of the conflict between secular dogma and the more open-minded view that’s willing to entertain the possibility that God’s hand may really have left evidence of His work in the heavens, in our bodies.
Lopez: What happened to Jason Gilson?
Klinghoffer: Gilson is the disabled 23-year-old Iraq veteran who was booed and called a “murderer” by a rabid liberal crowd at a Fourth of July parade on Bainbridge Island, an affluent Seattle suburb directly across Puget Sound. So you see what meaning that word has for some Seattlites. For whatever it’s worth, the mayor of Bainbridge subsequently apologized.
Lopez: What could the Ten Commandments do for Britney Spears?
Klinghoffer: You may wish to consult the cover story of Us Weekly for its excellent coverage on that (“Brit’s Nannies Tell All”) and other celeb dish. Or are you prompting me to discuss the culture of gossip, which falls under the heading of the Ninth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your fellow”? A great example of how people think they know what each of the Commandments means, but really don’t. Thanks for asking, Kathryn, as they say. What I show in my book is that the Ten Commandments is not only the simple list of do’s and don’ts that people assume they’ve got down flat. It’s more like a table of contents for the whole of Biblical wisdom, which in turn, according to a midrashic tradition, is nothing less than a blueprint of moral reality. So in the Ten Commandments we have the most incredibly terse and succinct picture of the universe as God sees it, of God’s mind.
What’s that I was saying about Brit’s nannies?
Lopez: Sam Harris?
Klinghoffer: The celebrity atheist who thinks that because lots of scientists are atheists, therefore nobody needs religion to be a good person. Oh for goodness sake. It’s true that plenty of atheists are perfectly nice and functional people. But the question is what an entire society would be like, hollowed out spiritually, lacking any ability to account for, in a serious way, the rightness of its morals. A famous philosopher, Jonah Goldberg, once wrote on this very website, “If I get my morality from a can of chicken-and-stars soup, you shouldn’t care until that morality drives me to commit evil.” I have no beef with chicken soup, but it’s impossible to imagine a society nourished morally on anything other than a transcendent basis for its conceptions of good and evil. That idea is represented visually by the Ten Commandments being carved on two tablets, the first describing our correct relationship with God, the other with fellow human beings. The Decalogue is put on two tablets to remind us that, in the long run, you can’t have one without the other.
Lopez: John Edwards?
Klinghoffer: He should review the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet.” The speech he’s best known for, the “Two Americas” oration — “One America that does the work, another America that reaps the rewards,” etc. — is nothing more than a piece of incitement to coveting.
Lopez: How is it worse for a man to gossip than a woman? I just can’t help myself?
Klinghoffer: Kathryn, I’m sure you don’t gossip. However, a point I make is that according to the oldest Biblical interpretive tradition, the two tablets are arranged to match up to each other, with one Commandment on the first tablet lining up horizontally with its mate on the second tablet. Those on the first tablet bear an if-then relationship to those on the second. So, for example, if you grasp the spiritual meanings of the Fourth Commandment, Sabbath observance, you are less like to violate the Ninth. The sabbath is about community, of which gossip is a way of creating a cheap, phony simulation. Dishing about your co-workers or friends, you feel momentarily closer to the person you gossip with. Women are better at creating real communities, real relationships, than men are. That’s why men often stop making close friends once the reach a certain age, which isn’t true of women. But the flip side of that is women’s weakness for gossip. Gossip has a feminine side to it. So in that sense, it’s even less becoming for a man to dish.
Lopez: How will it help me to give up my Blackberry on Sundays? (Did I say me? I meant “my friend”! I meant Rich Lowry!)
Klinghoffer: Oh, yes, Rich should give up that Blackberry on Sunday. I’ve wanted to tell him that and now you’ve give me the opportunity. Many a time, I’ve spied on him in Starbucks when he wasn’t looking, or I would have done so if we lived in the same city, with his head ducked in his lap continually typing away at that thing.
Why on Sunday? Now I don’t say this in reference to Rich or you, of course, but the Sabbath is meant to knock our hubris down a notch or two. When you don’t work on Sunday you are affirming that the world can get on without your creative contribution. The Blackberry says the exact opposite. It says, the world absolutely cannot get along without me, not for a minute. Just chuck it.
Lopez: So who needs to start a return to the Ten Commandments? Are we so bad off drastic measures are called for? Should a Mormon wage a presidential campaign based on them? What’s the plan?
Klinghoffer: The plan is for conservatives to stop feeling so shy about God talk when we discuss what’s wrong with the culture, with politics. That’s a big reason I wrote this book, to give people some courage about applying Biblical wisdom, openly, not only to our private lives — and I could use some more of that myself — but to our public lives as well. Conservatives get all nervous, like someone’s going to accuse them of being a theocrat or an extremist or a would-be mullah. Yes, we will be accused of those things. But just for a change, let’s take the offensive and change the terms of the debate, because we’re not exactly winning the argument right now.
A new study on America’s atheists and agnostics compared the no-faith audience to those who actively participate in the Christian faith.
As more books asserting the absence of God are being published and listed as bestsellers, the Barna Group study found a significant gap between the atheist and agnostic group and the believers as well as some commonalities.
Those who openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic or said they have “no faith” make up only 9 percent of the American adult population. Although only about 1 out of every 11 Americans, the no-faith group numbers roughly 20 million people in a nation of more than 220 million adults, the study noted.
Only about 5 million adults unequivocally use the label “atheist” and staunchly reject the existence of God. The rest have doubts of God’s existence but do not outright reject a supreme being.
Most atheists and agnostics (56 percent) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. Two-thirds of active-faith Americans (63 percent) perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.
Atheists and agnostics were found to be largely more disengaged in many areas of life than believers. They are less likely to be registered to vote (78 percent) than active-faith Americans (89 percent); to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20 percent vs. 30 percent); to describe themselves as “active in the community” (41 percent vs. 68 percent); and to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41 percent vs. 61 percent).
Additionally, when the no-faith group does donate to charitable causes, their donation amount pales in comparison to those active in faith. In 2006, atheists and agnostics donated just $200 while believers contributed $1,500. The amount is still two times higher among believers when subtracting church-based giving.
The no-faith group is also more likely to be focused on living a comfortable, balanced lifestyle (12 percent) while only 4 percent of Christians say the same. And no-faith adults are also more focused on acquiring wealth (10 percent) than believers (2 percent). One-quarter of Christians identified their faith as the primary focus of their life.
Still, one-quarter of atheists and agnostics said “deeply spiritual” accurately describes them and three-quarters of them said they are clear about the meaning and purpose of their life.
When it came to being “at peace,” however, researchers saw a significant gap with 67 percent of no-faith adults saying they felt “at peace” compared to 90 percent of believers. Atheists and agnostics are also less likely to say they are convinced they are right about things in life (38 percent vs. 55 percent) and more likely to feel stressed out (37 percent vs. 26 percent).
“Neither the 20 million no-faith adults nor the 58 million active-faith Christians are as internally consistent as those who write and speak on behalf of their groups make them out to be,” said David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group. “Proponents of secularism suggest that rejecting faith is a simple and intelligent response to what we know today. Yet, most of the Americans who overtly reject faith harbor doubts about whether they are correct in doing so. Many of the most ardent critics of Christianity claim that compassion and generosity do not hinge on faith; yet those who divorce themselves from spiritual commitment are significantly less likely to help others.”
The two groups also have some commonalities. Both said they are in serious debt with 11 percent no-faith adults and 10 percent of active-faith adults admitting it. Also, 13 percent of no-faith Americans and 12 percent of believers are dealing with a personal addiction; and both groups are also trying to find a few good friends (41 percent vs. 40 percent). Both groups are also equally likely to say they have discussed political, moral and spiritual issues with others in the last month. And about one-fifth of both groups said they often try to persuade other people to change their views.
On another note, Christians are more likely to admit to being overweight with 41 percent admitting it compared to 26 percent of no-faith adults.
“Ironically ... both atheists and committed Christians share one unusual area of common ground: concern about superficial, inert forms of Christianity in America,” Kinnaman stated. “There are nearly 130 million American adults who describe themselves as Christians, but who are Christian in name only; their behavior includes little related to experiencing and expressing their alleged faith in Christ.”
The study further found atheists and agnostics to be younger, more likely to be male and unmarried, earn more and more likely to be college graduates.
According to study results, 81 percent of the no-faith group say they adapt easily to change compared to 66 percent of active-faith Americans.
Only 6 percent of those aged 61 and older and 9 percent of 42-60-year-olds identify themselves in the no-faith group. Among younger generations, 14 percent of 23-41-year-olds say they are atheist or agnostic and 19 percent of those aged 18-22 identify themselves with that group.
“It is important for Christians to understand the environment and the perspectives of people who are different from them, especially among young generations whose culture is moving rapidly away from Christianity,” said Kinnaman. “Believers have the options of ignoring, rejecting or dealing with the aggressiveness of atheists and those hostile to the Christian faith. By their own admission, Christians have difficulty handling change, admitting when they are uncertain of something, and responding effectively to divergent perspectives. These characteristics make the new challenges facing Christianity even more daunting.”
The Barna study is based upon a series of nationwide telephone surveys conducted from January 2005 through January 2007 on 1,055 adults who identified themselves as atheists or agnostics and 3,011 active-faith adults aged 18 and older. Each study included at least 250 active-faith adults and 100 atheists and agnostics.
Today’s culture wars can be directly traced to the cultural transformations of the 1960’s. As a matter of fact, that critical decade represented nothing less than a cultural revolution of sorts—a revolution Stanley Kurtz describes as “both a fulfillment and a repudiation of the vision of America’s founders.”
Kurtz makes his case in “Culture and Values in the 1960’s,” a fascinating essay published in Never a Matter of Indifference: Sustaining Virtue in a Free Republic, recently released by the Hoover Institution Press. Edited by Peter Berkowitz, Never a Matter of Indifference is a thought-provoking collection of essays on moral character and democratic responsibility. Kurtz’s essay adds historical context to the book’s central thesis—that moral virtue is an absolute necessity in order for political liberty to flourish.
When Kurtz argues that the 1960’s represented “both a fulfillment and a repudiation” of America’s founding vision, he offers an important corrective both to those who would celebrate the 1960’s as a time of unfettered liberation and to those who would curse the same decade as a time of absolute moral collapse. Kurtz, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, points to the Civil Rights Movement and the end of legal segregation as great gains for the society. The impetus toward racial equality was an example of what Kurtz labels “classic liberalism,” based in respect for both human dignity and moral structure.
Nevertheless, the legacy of the 1960’s is mixed precisely because “classic liberalism” devolved into something very different—an ideology that celebrates liberty without an accompanying respect for moral character. Kurtz wants to understand this exchange of classical liberalism for something far more radical. “If the movements that began in the 1960’s have in some significant measure departed from classic liberalism, how are we to understand their inner rationale?,” Kurtz asks. “What connects the ecology movement, for example, with movements for Civil Rights? And if classic liberalism suffices for many Americans, what has prompted them to set it aside?”
Very quickly, Kurtz moves to answer his own question. “I argue that the sixties ethos, and the transformation of liberalism it has produced, is best understood as a secular religion, and in many respects an illiberal religion.” An illiberal liberalism? Kurtz argues that this new liberalism is no longer based in the concern for ordered liberty that framed the nation’s founding.
The children of the 1960’s betrayed the American vision by “becoming an illiberal religion,” Kurtz asserts. This happened because “liberalism stopped being a mere political perspective for many people and turned into a religion.”
Is Kurtz using the word “religion” merely as a point of exaggerated argument? “I do not speak metaphorically,” Kurtz insists. “A certain form of liberalism now functions for substantial numbers of its adherents as a religion: an encompassing world-view that answers the big questions about life, dignifies daily exertions with higher significance, and provides a rationale for meaningful collective action.”
Classic liberalism was primarily concerned with individual liberty, understood to be both protected and limited by an ordered structure of moral obligation. This view of liberty produced the American concern for freedom of speech, freedom of association, and religious liberty that has stood at the heart of the American experiment. True liberalism is not intimidated by the presence of competing voices, public debate, and different perspectives. That no longer characterizes today’s illiberal liberalism, as best demonstrated in the ethos of political correctness.
As Kurtz explains, “The central mechanism of political correctness is the stigmatization of perspectives, many of them classically liberal, that run afoul of left-liberalism—a condemnation disproportionate to what might be expected in matters of mere policy disagreement.” As the worldview of left-liberalism is turned into a functional religion for so many people, they now treat any disagreement as heresy to be eradicated. “This shift to ostracism in place of intellectual engagement in so many of our cultural debates cannot be explained as a mere conscious tactical maneuver,” Kurtz explains. “The stigmatization of traditional perspectives can only be effective because so many are primed to respond to it in the first place.”
Why do today’s liberals respond to conservative arguments with condescension and a dismissal? Kurtz argues that the new liberalism has demonized conservatives and conservative arguments. As a religion, liberalism is “in need of demons,” Kurtz observes. “Traditional liberalism emphasized the ground rules for reasoned debate and the peaceful adjudication of political differences. One of the main reasons that politics in a liberal society could be peaceful was that people sought direction about life’s ultimate purpose outside of politics itself. Once traditional religion ceased to provide many moderns with either an ultimate life-purpose or a pattern of virtue, liberalism itself was the only belief system remaining that could supply these essential elements of life.”
In sum, support of left-liberal causes is now a religious passion for many Americans whose worldviews were shaped by the 1960’s. Every political debate becomes “a dire, almost revolutionary, struggle for the very principles of liberalism itself.”
Without commitment to a traditional faith, the children of the 1960’s sought ultimate meaning in the secular sphere. For many, the Holocaust became the “moral touchstone” for life, Kurtz argues. As such, the Holocaust becomes both a symbol and a moral anchor. Thus, “little Holocausts” are now seen everywhere. These exaggerated conflicts range from Betty Friedan’s description of the suburban home as a “comfortable concentration camp,” to the radical environmentalists’ outrage at “holocausts” such as commercial chicken farming and the lumber industry.
The children of the sixties were, in the main, children of privilege and material prosperity. As such, they had a hard time claiming to be oppressed or disadvantaged. They dealt with this by associating themselves with the real or perceived oppression of others.
As Kurtz explains, “Weighed down by a sense of the banality of their existence, the baby boomer stewards were given a life of material comfort but longed instead for a life of exertion in the service of some larger purpose, or at least for the appearance of such a life. The solution hit upon by many was to identify with struggling groups—however temporarily, however superficially, however counterproductively.”
Stripped of its moral context and obligations, this new form of liberalism functions as a political religion that sees oppression—real or imaginary—as the only important form of sin. In this contorted worldview, meaning is found in associating oneself with the oppressed—whether other human beings, or animals, or even inanimate objects. Kurtz points to the “Lawn Liberation Front,” which in 2001 distributed leaflets in Pittsburgh claiming that 12-inch spikes may have been driven into area lawns to prevent the cutting of grass. “Grass is a living entity that deserves as much respect as humans,” the group claimed. In so doing, the “LLF” was merely following the liturgy of the new secular religion.
All this is the inevitable result of a shared communal worldview. Beyond that, the very loss of a shared moral worldview can be directly traced to secularism and the eroding influence of the Christian worldview within the culture.
Where does this lead? For Kurtz, it means, “for the foreseeable future, we are in for a long and inconclusive culture war.” That much seems abundantly clear and irrefutable. The further value of Kurtz’s argument is his insistence that this war is “best understood as a conflict not only between religion and secularism, but between two competing religions.”
Those who know the Bible understand this reality all too well. The choice we face is not between religion and secularism, but between Biblical faith and the various paganisms. These are indeed two competing religions. As the Lord instructed Israel, “Choose ye this day whom ye shall serve.”
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
GURAT, France — Godlessness is in trouble, according to a growing consensus among philosophers, intellectuals and scholars.
“Atheism as a theoretical position is in decline worldwide,” Munich theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg said in an interview. His Oxford colleague Alister McGrath agrees.
Atheism’s “future seems increasingly to lie in the private beliefs of individuals rather than in the great public domain it once regarded as its habitat,” Mr. McGrath wrote in the U.S. magazine, Christianity Today.
Two developments are plaguing atheism these days. One is that it appears to be losing its scientific underpinnings. The other is the historical experience of hundreds of millions of people worldwide that atheists are in no position to claim the moral high ground.
British philosopher Anthony Flew, once as hard-nosed a humanist as any, has turned his back on atheism, saying it is impossible for evolution to account for the fact that one single cell can carry more data than all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Mr. Flew still does not accept the God of the Bible. But he has embraced the concept of intelligent design — a stunning desertion of a former intellectual ambassador of secular humanism to the belief in some form of intelligence behind the design of the universe.
A few years ago, European scientists snickered when studies in the United States — for example, at Harvard and Duke universities — showed a correlation between faith, prayer and recovery from illness. Now 1,200 studies at research centers around the world have come to similar conclusions, according to “Psychologie Heute,” a German journal, citing, for example, the marked improvement of multiple sclerosis patients in Germany’s Ruhr District because of “spiritual resources.”
Atheism’s other Achilles’ heels are the acts on inhumanity and lunacy committed in its name.
“With time, [atheism] turned out to have just as many frauds, psychopaths and careerists as religion does. ... With Stalin and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, atheism seems to have ended up mimicking the vices of the Spanish Inquisition and the worst televangelists, respectively,” Mr. McGrath wrote in Christianity Today.
The Rev. Paul M. Zulehner, dean of Vienna University’s divinity school and one of the world’s most distinguished sociologists of religion, said atheists in Europe have become “an infinitesimally small group.” “There are not enough of them to be used for sociological research,” he said.
Mr. Zulehner cautioned, however, that the decline of atheism in Europe does not mean that re-Christianization is taking place. “What we are observing instead is a re-paganization,” he said.
The Rev. Gerald McDermott, an Episcopal priest and professor of religion and philosophy at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., said a similar phenomenon is taking place in the United States. “The rise of all sorts of paganism is creating a false spirituality that proves to be a more dangerous rival to the Christian faith than atheism,” he said.
After all, a Satanist is also “spiritual.”
Mr. Pannenberg, a Lutheran, praised the Roman Catholic Church for handling this peril more wisely than many of his fellow Protestants. “The Catholics stick to the central message of Christianity without making any concessions in the ethical realm,” he said, referring to issues such as same-sex “marriages” and abortion.
In a similar vein, Mr. Zulehner, a Catholic, sees Christianity’s greatest opportunity when its message addresses two seemingly irreconcilable quests of contemporary humanity — the quest for freedom and truth. “Christianity alone affirms that truth and God’s dependability are inseparable properties to which freedom is linked.” As for the “peril of spirituality,” Mr. Zulehner sounded quite sanguine.
He concluded from his research that in the long run, the survival of worldviews should be expected to follow this lineup: “The great world religions are best placed,” he said. As a distant second he sees the diffuse forms of spirituality. Atheism, he said, will come in at the tail end.
The recent reports that the prominent atheist philosopher Antony Flew has changed his position to one far more accommodating to theism, have sparked much controversy. Rationalist International, for example, has denounced the reports, which it describes as a “sensationalist campaign in the internet,” and has reprinted a 2003 letter responding to similar rumors from last year, in which Flew says, “Those rumors speak false.”
In that very letter, however, Flew makes an important concession — one which I find to be quite dispositive in the argument over the existence of God: Flew concedes that the theist position is as consonant as the naturalist/atheist position is with the scientific facts about the origins of the universe: “I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god [sic], even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds.”
As to whether these developments have convinced Flew to accept a theist position himself, Flew says directly, “They certainly have not persuaded me.”
However, Flew has indeed conceded what must be seen as the criticial point. It is this: that atheism has, at its base, a leap of faith exactly identical to that which theists make. Theists look at all the evidence we encounter in the natural world and conclude that it is consonant with belief in an intelligent, all-powerful being behind it, whom we call God. Atheists look at the same evidence and conclude that this cosmos must have all just happened somehow. The critical point is that neither position is provable.
Flew’s great innovation in his 1950 article “Theology and Falsification” was to point out the first half of this formulation: that the belief in God is not scientifically falsifiable and hence not a scientific statement. Well and good. Flew is exactly correct, if we are willing to narrow our concept of science to a concern for only that which is materially provable — a perfectly reasonable position. What Flew failed to do, however, and what is indeed impossible to achieve, was to prove that the atheist case is scientifically falsifiable and hence a truly scientific position. It is neither. What Flew’s clever argument did was to place theists on the defensive by suggesting that their position was uniquely unscientific. It is most decidedly not, and never has been so.
The argument succeeded brilliantly, however, even though it had already been answered by writers such as C. S. Lewis. The great Oxford don Lewis had pointed out, in his book Miracles, published in 1947, that there are only two possible philosophies, or worldviews, in our world: Christianity (under which he which placed all theist orientations) and Hinduism (in which he included all naturalist/materialist philosophies). Lewis’s argument made it clear that contrary to the claims of its adherents, materialist philosophy had no fundamental philosophical advantage over theist positions.
Hard as he tried, Flew’s argument did nothing to change that, although he did succeed in emboldening materialist philosophers and their adherents and in placing Christians on the defensive. It is interesting, moreover, that Flew should have made this case in a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by Lewis. Clearly it was devised as an answer to Lewis’s argument in Miracles, but it is a definite failure on that count, even though it became a popular atheist argument for more than a half-century.
Today, despite the hopes and dreams of his fellow atheists such as the Rationalist International, Flew has indeed shifted his ground to a position far more accommodating to theism. In a recent interview with Dr. Gary Habermas, Flew moved toward what he openly agrees is a Deist position, and he made many further concessions under questioning from Habermas, including the following crucial one: “a knock-down falsification … is most certainly not possible in the case of Christianity.”
The introduction to the interview summarizes Flew’s current position as follows: “in January 2004, Flew informed Habermas that he had indeed become a theist. While still rejecting the concept of special revelation, whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic, nonetheless he had concluded that theism was true. In Flew’s words, he simply ‘had to go where the evidence leads.’” I am not certain at this point that it is fair to characterize Flew’s position as theism, but it is undeniable that he has now conceded the main point: that neither atheism nor theism has any special, fundamental, philosophical advantage or disadvantage over the other. That is a huge change.
Flew appreciates the magnitude of this development, noting the following in a summation near the end of the interview: “This is an important matter about rationality which I have fairly recently come to appreciate. What it is rational for any individual to believe about some matter which is fresh to that individual’s consideration depends on what he or she rationally believed before they were confronted with this fresh situation. For suppose they rationally believed in the existence of a God of any revelation, then it would be entirely reasonable for them to see the fine tuning argument as providing substantial confirmation of their belief in the existence of that God.”
From a philosophical perspective, that is all that the theists need: to have the argument back on level ground. It is indeed the correct philosophical position and the right scientific one, and Flew is to be commended for his willingness to “go where the evidence leads.” The conclusion is a simple one: Atheists have no greater claim to scientific truth or rationality than theists do. If theists are allowed to argue on the same footing as atheists, it will be better for science and philosophy alike. That makes Antony Flew’s recent change of thinking very important indeed.
S. T. Karnick is senior editor of The Heartland Institute, associate fellow of the Sagamore Institute, and coeditor of The Reform Club.
By RICHARD N. OSTLING, AP Religion Writer
NEW YORK - A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God — more or less — based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.
At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.
Flew said he’s best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people’s lives.
“I’m thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins,” he said. “It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose.”
Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article “Theology and Falsification,” based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.
Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous U.S. and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates.
There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.
Yet biologists’ investigation of DNA “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved,” Flew says in the new video, “Has Science Discovered God?”
The video draws from a New York discussion last May organized by author Roy Abraham Varghese’s Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas. Participants were Flew; Varghese; Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew; and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews.
The first hint of Flew’s turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain’s Philosophy Now magazine. “It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism,” he wrote.
The letter commended arguments in Schroeder’s “The Hidden Face of God” and “The Wonder of the World” by Varghese, an Eastern Rite Catholic layman.
This week, Flew finished writing the first formal account of his new outlook for the introduction to a new edition of his “God and Philosophy,” scheduled for release next year by Prometheus Books.
Prometheus specializes in skeptical thought, but if his belief upsets people, well “that’s too bad,” Flew said. “My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.”
Last week, Richard Carrier, a writer and Columbia University graduate student, posted new material based on correspondence with Flew on the atheistic www.infidels.org Web page. Carrier assured atheists that Flew accepts only a “minimal God” and believes in no afterlife.
Flew’s “name and stature are big. Whenever you hear people talk about atheists, Flew always comes up,” Carrier said. Still, when it comes to Flew’s reversal, “apart from curiosity, I don’t think it’s like a big deal.”
Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American “intelligent design” theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.
A Methodist minister’s son, Flew became an atheist at 15.
Early in his career, he argued that no conceivable events could constitute proof against God for believers, so skeptics were right to wonder whether the concept of God meant anything at all.
Another landmark was his 1984 “The Presumption of Atheism,” playing off the presumption of innocence in criminal law. Flew said the debate over God must begin by presuming atheism, putting the burden of proof on those arguing that God exists.
Mike S. Adams
When I pulled into the parking lot this morning, I saw a car covered with sacrilegious bumper stickers. It seemed obvious to me that the owner was craving attention. I’m sure he was also seeking to elicit anger from people of faith. The anger helps the atheist to justify his atheism. And, all too often, the atheist gets exactly what he is looking for.
In fact, just the other day, I heard a Christian refer to Michael Newdow as an “attention-craving SOB.” It reminded me of the time I heard someone refer to Annie Laurie Gaylor as a “b**ch.” I don’t have the same reaction towards atheists, even when I see them attacking my basic religious freedoms. When I look into their eyes I see an emptiness that evokes pity. Maybe that’s because I was once one of them.
I still remember the night I publicly declared my atheism. It was April 3rd, 1992. I was a long-haired musician, playing guitar at a bar called “The Gin” in Oxford, Mississippi. The subject of religion came up in a conversation during one of my breaks. An Ole Miss Law student, who had been an undergraduate with me at Mississippi State years before, asked me whether I was still dating my girlfriend, Sally. Then he asked why I had broken up with my previous girlfriend two years before.
After I explained that my former girlfriend was too much of a fundamentalist while I was an atheist, his jaw nearly hit the ground. “Are you really an atheist?” he asked. He assured me he didn’t mean to pry and that he was merely concerned. He didn’t have to tell me that. His reaction gave him away. It was a reaction he could not have possibly faked.
That law student, whose name I have forgotten, made no effort to convert me on the spot. But he did plead with me to pick up a copy of Mere Christianity. “I’ve heard it all before,” I said. He told me I was wrong. He said that C.S. Lewis was the best apologist of the 20th century, but he didn’t push the matter. The conversation ended abruptly. I never saw him again.
Years later, I read Mere Christianity and it did have a great effect upon me. But, recently, I was thinking about what really drove me to read the book. How could I have remembered the title of a book I heard only once? After all, it was many years before at the end of a long night of drinking in a bar in Mississippi.
The answer is simple. The advice was given to me by someone who sincerely considered the matter to be urgent. And that sense of urgency was conveyed without a trace of anger. It was just a matter of one human being communicating his concern for another without being pushy and holier-than-thou.
If a Christian really believes the things he professes to believe, he will go to great lengths to share it with others. He would even crawl on his belly across a desert of broken glass if he thought he could reach an atheist. He would certainly do more than utter profanity and show contempt for the atheist.
When my relationship with my atheist girlfriend ended on April 4th, 1992, I thought it was the end of the world. I didn’t know I had just taken my first step on the road to freedom. I certainly didn’t believe in divine intervention. But I do now.
I don’t think about those days as often as I should. But the next time I see Michael Newdow on TV, I will try to remember. And when I feel some sadness, I will try to keep the faith that there is always hope.
Between faith and hope and something, the greatest of these things is something. As long as there are atheists among us, we cannot forget that greatest thing. I am glad that law student remembered. I plan to thank him when I see him again.
“Massachusetts is a ‘blue state’; there’s no room for God here!” — William Shatner, playing Denny Crane, in “Boston Legal”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Humor works because there’s always a grain of truth in it. But there’s nothing funny about the ongoing attacks on God when it comes to the personal faith of the president of the United States.
Michael Newdow, an atheist from the blue state of California who has made a name for himself by challenging any public utterance or mention of “God” as an affront to his constitutional rights, recently declared that there is no room for God in the rest of the country, either. Citing the “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment, he filed suit in federal court to prevent any mention of God in Thursday’s inaugural ceremonies — including the president’s own personal remarks.
Rightly, the Supreme Court disagreed, and on Thursday, in his inaugural address, President Bush publicly asked God to bless this land and the hope of freedom we offer others. The antipathy Newdow and other non-believers feel toward the president began during the 2000 election campaign, when then-Gov. Bush was asked during a debate what “philosopher” had most influenced him. Bush’s response: “Jesus Christ. He changed my heart. He changed my life.”
Four years in the Oval Office haven’t changed that perspective. A few days ago, President Bush, reflecting on the challenges he’s had to face as chief executive, said he doesn’t “see how you can be president, at least from my perspective, how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord.”
It was enough to make atheists like Newdow race for the microphones and cameras. But rather than howling about the president’s admission, they should have thanked whatever non-God-like entity they consider paramount that a man of faith like George W. Bush is our president.
It is precisely his “at least from my perspective” stipulation that separates George Bush from those who would impose their religion — or lack of it — on others by decree or the sword. In a recent interview with the editors of the Washington Times, Bush made it clear that “the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit. That’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban.”
Far from establishing a state religion, as Newdow alleges, President Bush has clearly expressed precisely the opposite. This conviction of personal faith, balanced by a respect of each individual’s right to worship — or not — according to his or her conscience, isn’t unique to George W. Bush. In fact, it extends back 215 years to the foundation of our republic.
This week, Bush visited the National Archives to view our first president’s inaugural address and the Bible George Washington kissed after taking the oath of office in 1789. Later that year, Washington — an Episcopalian — wrote to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, “Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”
On the issue of religious freedom, Washington and Bush sound a lot alike. But our first and 43rd presidents share another common characteristic: humility — humility before the laws of God and a respect for the laws of men.
President Bush’s evangelical Methodist faith informs him that he is not to judge others’ motives. Christianity teaches that conversions cannot be coerced or mandated and that all people, regardless of their race, socio-economic status or political office, are fundamentally equal, subject to the laws of the land and — most importantly — accountable to a higher power. For those of us tired of hiding our beliefs lest we “offend” anyone, President Bush is an example of how to live one’s faith in the public square: with respect, enthusiasm, openness and, above all, humility.
Humility, though, is not timidity. It is not a subservient disposition that quiets all assertions of strength or conviction. Humility is recognition of the simplicity of truth and a willful, joyful submission of any self-importance or ego to the cause of promoting truth.
As evidenced by his words and actions, President Bush apparently recognizes the truths that his faith dictates, fundamental truths that include hope that others will accept Jesus Christ as their savior. This is the desire of every Christian. We’re supposed to respect the beliefs of others — and pray that God will grant the openness of heart and mind to see the truth to those who do not understand or accept.
Unfortunately, that’s too much for some. After President Bush made it clear that he believes in the right of every person to worship or not according to their conscience, Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, responded, “He just doesn’t get it ... and he seems to ignore the fact that in our Constitution we do not have a religious test for those seeking public office ... he does not respect the diversity of the country.”
Johnson apparently missed the “at least from my perspective” caveat. She demands to be heard and stresses the importance of diversity — yet she seems to have difficulty granting such consideration to others.
Like his 42 predecessors, Bush invoked the protection and blessing of the Almighty on the nation in his inaugural address. He stands for what he believes is right and supports the rights of others to disagree. He is unashamed to pray for wisdom, peace, and the spread of freedom and justice. And above all, he maintains humility. We’re blessed to have such a man as our president.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, host of the Fox News Channel’s War Stories and founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.
Richard Dawkins wants to be the devil’s chaplain. As the world’s most visible and articulate atheist, Dawkins declared war on religious belief many years ago. In his latest salvo, he leaves no doubt about his antipathy towards all forms of theistic belief.
Dawkins is the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is an unashamed evangelist for Darwinism, and is the media’s favorite evolutionist. His books have sold by the thousands and his ideas have taken on a life of their own—pushed along by the currents of postmodern culture.
In his previous books, such as The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene, Dawkins presented a view of evolutionary naturalism that focused on genes as the basic engines of evolutionary progress. The so-called “selfish gene” suggests that highly organized and complex living beings are merely vehicles used by the evolutionary process to reproduce genes and perpetuate their legacy. According to Dawkins, evolution progresses as genetic information is transferred to future generations and as information is passed from mind to mind in the form of “memes,” or units of intellectual material.
In his latest book, A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love, Dawkins has collected some of his favorite essays, reviews, and addresses in one volume. The book’s title is taken from a letter Charles Darwin wrote to his friend Joseph Hooker in 1856. In a playful passage, Darwin remarked: “What a book the Devil’s Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature.” Like Darwin, Dawkins argues that evolution is a blind process, demonstrating no concern for suffering “as an inherent consequence of natural selection.” Like his friend the late Carl Sagan, Dawkins argues that the current generation of human beings is the first to gain the power to influence evolution itself. In his first book, Dawkins had argued that humans “alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” In this new volume, Dawkins asserts that “evolution gave us a brain whose size increased to the point where it became capable of understanding its own provenance, of deploring the moral implications and of fighting against them.”
As a militant atheist, Dawkins is living out the inevitable consequences of the Darwinian worldview. The evolutionary perspective is left with the universe as nothing more than a silent box empty of all meaning, intention, and design. Everything within the box must be explained in terms of purely naturalistic materials and processes. The cosmos and everything within it is nothing more than a marvelous—if often malevolent—accident of nature.
Dawkins’ hostility toward religion in general, and Christianity in particular, has been evident from the earliest years of his writing career. He has written popular articles for secular humanist and atheist periodicals, and is bold to identify atheism as the only credible intellectual option in the modern era. He sees Christianity—and all forms of theistic belief—as intellectual viruses. But we underestimate Dawkins if we assume that his concerns are merely academic and intellectual. To the contrary, Dawkins aspires to be a social engineer and to bring the evolutionary worldview into the public square in order to revolutionize politics, culture, economics, and every dimension of life. Give him credit—his ambitions are not humble.
The title of his newest book is more than a literary accident. Dawkins really sees himself as an evangelist for Darwinism and as something like a High Priest of naturalism. He sees all forms of religious belief as the enemy, and wants to expunge public life of all religious arguments, concepts, and traditions. Ultimately, we sense that Dawkins would like to clear the public square of all religious believers as well.
“Why has our society so meekly acquiesced in the convenient fiction that religious views have some sort of right to be respected automatically and without question?” Dawkins asks. “If I want you to respect my views on politics, science, or art, I have to earn that respect by argument, reason, eloquence or relevant knowledge. I have to withstand counter-arguments. But if I have a view that is part of my religion, critics must respectively tiptoe away or brave the indignation of society at large. Why are religious opinions off limits in this way? Why do we have to respect them simply because they are religious?”
Religion, Dawkins accuses, “is the most inflammatory enemy-labeling device in history.” His atheism is rooted in philosophical rationalism: “If religious beliefs had any evidence going for them, we might have to accept them in spite of their concomitant unpleasantness. But there is no such evidence.” Religious believers are inhabitants of “suckerdom,” and religious beliefs are the product of “malignant infection.”
Two specific lines of argument promoted by Dawkins in this new work are worthy of attention. First, Dawkins’ militant atheism destroys the pretensions of those who try to create a half-way house between Christian belief and the theory of evolution. Dawkins will have nothing to do with efforts to “reconcile” religion and science. He accuses some of his fellow scientists of sloppy thinking or intellectual dishonesty. Responding to Ursula Goodenough’s book, The Sacred Depths of Nature, Dawkins asserts that it presents a form of false advertising. Though Goodenough proposes a reconciliation between science and religion, Dawkins is enough of an atheist to spot a fellow unbeliever when he sees one. “Dr. Goodenough does not believe in any sort of supreme being, does not believe in any sort of life after death; on any normal understanding of the English language, she is no more religious than I am.”
This line of argument is actually very helpful as it destroys the various attempts to accommodate the Christian worldview to the worldview of naturalistic scientism. According to Dawkins’ radical secular worldview, real science and real religion can have nothing to do with each other. Any argument to the contrary, he counters, is either a form of disguised belief in God or corrupted science. “If God is a synonym for the deepest principles of physics, what word is left for a hypothetical being who answers prayers; intervenes to save cancer patients or help evolution over difficult jumps; forgives sins or dies for them? If we are allowed to re-label scientific awe as a religious impulse, the case goes through on the nod. You have redefined science as religion, so it’s hardly surprising if they turn out to ‘converge.’” New Age scientists pushing their proposed reconciliations of evolution and Christian belief are described by Dawkins as engaged in “a cloying love-feast of bogus convergence.”
Rejecting the late Stephen Jay Gould’s proposal that science and religion inhabit different “nonconflicting magisteria,” Dawkins counters that Christian believers insist on crossing over into the scientific world when they claim validity for such events as miracles and divine providence.
“Theologians, if they want to remain honest, “ Dawkins instructs, “should make a choice. You can claim your own magisterium, separate from science’s but still deserving of respect. But in that case you have to renounce miracles. Or you can keep your ...miracles and enjoy their huge recruiting potential among the uneducated. But then you must kiss goodbye to separate magesteria and your high-minded aspiration to converge on science.”
Since Dawkins sees religious belief as an intellectual virus, he argues that parents should have no right to instruct and recruit children into their own religious faith. “A human child,” Dawkins explains, “is shaped by evolution to soak up the culture of her people.” According to Dawkins, “When you are pre-programmed to absorb useful information at a high rate, it is hard to shut out pernicious or damaging information at the same time. With so many mindbytes to be downloaded, so many mental codons to be duplicated, it is no wonder that child brains are gullible, open to almost any suggestion, vulnerable to subversion, easy prey to Moonies, Scientologists and Nuns. Like immune-deficient patients, children are wide open to mental infections that adults might brush off without effort.”
This second line of argument should draw immediate attention to the fact that Dawkins and his fellow atheists have no intention of respecting anything like the concept of religious liberty that has framed the American experiment. “Society, for no reason that I can discern, accepts that parents must have an automatic right to bring their children up with particular religious opinions and can withdraw them from say, biology classes that teach evolution.” In Dawkin’s vision of a perfect world, undoubtedly he would be the authority to decide what our children would and would not learn, and all would be atheists.
One of the most venerable and valuable axioms of warfare is this: “Know your enemy.” Naturalistic evolution and the materialist worldview represent the most threatening enemies Christianity now faces in the Western world. In A Devil’s Chaplain, Richard Dawkins helps us to understand the worldview and thinking behind the theory of evolution. As he applies to be the devil’s chaplain, it appears that Richard Dawkins is superbly qualified for the job.
[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 25, 2004.]
The continent of Europe is now experiencing a civilizational crisis. Once the cradle of Western civilization, Europe is transforming itself into a hyper-modern culture of nearly undiluted secularism. Once constituted by a sense of Christian identity, Europe is now attempting a vast experiment in secularism, and this experiment shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
George Weigel has been watching these developments closely. Weigel is a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center [EPPC] in Washington, D.C., and is one of the nation’s most influential public intellectuals. Well known for his massive biography of Pope John Paul II, Weigel is a Roman Catholic theologian who knows secularism when he sees it—and understands what inevitably follows when a civilization rejects the very Christian worldview on which it was established.
In The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, Weigel presents a magisterial analysis of Europe’s current plight. The title of the book directs attention to the central architectural metaphor of his thesis—the contrast between La Grande Arche de la Defense and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. The Grand Arch was built under the direction of the late French president Francois Mitterand and was designed by modernist architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen. The Grand Arch stands far west of the Arc de Triomphe, and is massive by any comparison, standing almost 40 stories tall and wider than a football field. Constructed of glass and white Carrara marble, the Grand Arch is a parable of postmodernism, for its grand scale points to no particular meaning.
Weigel’s interest in the arch was seasoned by an architectural guidebook that claimed that the entire Cathedral of Notre-Dame would fit within the space of the Great Arch—including the cathedral’s towers and spire.
Considering the two architectural marvels—the cube and the cathedral—Weigel saw a metaphor for the contrast between secular and Christian Europe. “All of which raised some questions in my mind, as I walked along the terrace admiring one of the world’s great cityscapes,” Weigel remembers. “Which culture, I wondered, would better protect human rights? Which culture would more firmly secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this stunning, rational, angular, geometrically precise but essentially featureless cube? Or the culture that produced the vaulting and bosses, the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the nooks and crannies, the asymmetries and holy ‘unsaneness’ of Notre-Dame and the other great Gothic cathedrals of Europe?”
Another contrast also framed Weigel’s attention—the divergence of America and Europe in the new century. “In the first years of the twenty-first century, and in a moment in history when the democratic ideal had energized much of the world, Americans suddenly seemed to be approaching a parting of the ways with many of our European friends in understanding the democratic project—its sources, its possibilities, and the threats to it.”
The European project is in trouble, Weigel asserts. The evidence is now unassailable. For some years, Europe has experienced a fall in births that now portends a net decrease in population. At the same time, the countries of Western Europe have become increasingly populated by Islamic immigrants, who are not only moving into Western Europe in large numbers, but are reproducing at rates far above the native population. Observers from many disciplines now project an Islamic future for Europe. Last week’s referendum in France, in which French citizens overwhelmingly rejected the proposed constitution for the European Union, only serves to complicate the picture. That very document had been the focus of controversy in recent months as the drafting committee had chosen to make no reference at all to the Christian sources of European civilization.
Weigel’s diagnosis of the European problem is clear and profound. He argues that Europe’s ambition to build a democratic project on a completely secular foundation is doomed to fail. In his view, Europe is now suffering a “crisis of civilizational morale” that can be directly attributed to its self-imposed decision to sever its future from its past.
In a fascinating analysis, Weigel draws upon legal scholar J. H. H. Weiler, who accuses leading European intellectuals of being “Christophobic,” and absolutely determined to eliminate or prevent any influence from Christianity.
For the most part, Europe’s intellectual class has adopted this secular project, apparently without reservation. Weigel argues his case clearly: “European high culture is largely Christophobic, and Europeans themselves describe their cultures and societies as post-Christian.”
Of course, falling birth rates and a loss of cultural morale do not emerge from an historical vacuum. Weigel traces many of the historical factors that convinced a large number of European intellectuals to see Christianity as the cause rather than the solution to civilizational crisis. Devastated by two world wars and humiliated by the Holocaust, Europe is reaping a whirlwind of cultural destruction, the seeds of which were sown early in the twentieth century.
A civilization’s historical memory is crucial in the development of its self-consciousness and its approach to the future. Weigel draws upon Henri de Lubac’s theology of history to suggest that the rise of European civilization was, at least in part, made possible by the adoption of a Christian understanding of history. Whereas the ancients understood human beings to be the toys and playthings of capricious pagan deities, the God of the Bible revealed Himself as the Lord of history, who is accomplishing his beneficent purposes in the unfolding of time. Thus, “History was an arena of responsibility and purpose because history was the medium through which the one true God made himself known to his people and empowered them to lead lives of dignity, through the intelligence and free will with which he had endowed them in creation.”
The process of secularization has affected all advanced societies, but the ideology of secularism has taken hold of the European mind. In Weigel’s words: “European man has convinced himself that in order to be modern and free, he must be radically secular. That conviction has had crucial, indeed lethal, consequences for European public life and European culture. Indeed, that conviction and its public consequences are at the root of Europe’s contemporary crisis of civilizational morale. That crisis of civilizational morale, in turn, helps explain why European man is deliberately forgetting his history.”
Europe is in big trouble precisely because it now insists that democratic values can be established without the distinctive teachings of Christianity. As Weigel understands, Christianity establishes a transcendent understanding of human dignity, a clear affirmation of human responsibility, and the elaboration of a moral order that makes civilization possible. In committing itself to the path of radical secularism, Europe is setting the stage for its own destruction.
When postmodern European intellectuals insist that European culture must be marked by “neutrality toward worldviews,” they set themselves against both history and experience. In essence, this claim is tantamount to the arrogant supposition that human beings can establish their own dignity and demand that other human beings—completely without an account of transcendent values—will then rationally recognize and respect that dignity. How, after the hard lessons of the twentieth century, can European intellectuals hold such beliefs?
In denying their past, these secular European intellectuals undercut their own future. “To deny that Christianity had anything to do with the evolution of free, law-governed, and prosperous European societies is, as I’ve argued above, more than a question of falsifying the past: it is also a matter of creating a future in which moral truth has no role in governance, in the determination of public policy, in understandings of justice, and in the definition of that freedom which democracy is intended to embody,” Weigel asserts.
Americans have a stake in this, to be sure. As Weigel warns, the European problem could “metastasize” to the United States. In any event, the close ties between Europe and the United States should be sufficient to demand the attention of thoughtful Americans.
In the end, Weigel suggests several alternative futures for European civilization and its postmodern experiment. Among these, he holds hope that Europe may reaffirm its Christian heritage and recover a lost patrimony. Evangelicals would surely insist that this is far more likely to happen at the level of common citizens, rather than as an organized redirection of the cultural elites.
George Weigel is an insightful historian whose analysis of the European crisis is largely transferable to our American context. After all, a class of American intellectuals desires and intends to move American culture precisely in the European direction—towards a sanitized and secularized culture that will attempt democracy without God. If these trends are not reversed, America could be just like Europe, but with a delayed fuse.
“In the beginning there was the Church,” explains Carol Midgley. “And people liked to dress up in their best clothes and go there on Sundays and they praised the Lord and it was good. But it came to pass that people grew tired of the Church and they stopped going, and began to be uplifted by new things such as yoga and t’ai chi instead. And, lo, a spiritual revolution was born.”
Reporting in the November 4, 2004 edition of The Times of London, Midgley announced the results of a major research project conducted in Great Britain. According to the data assembled in this report, England is returning to its pagan roots.
If that seems unlikely, just consider the fact that only 7.9 percent of the British population attends church with any regularity. On the European continent, those percentages are generally much lower, with rates of churchgoing in Scandinavian nations running less than three percent.
The research was conducted by a team of British sociologists who looked at the small village of Kendal in Cumbria as a laboratory. As it happens, the statistics on religious participation in Kendal mirror almost precisely the national statistics in Great Britain. Led by sociologist Linda Woodhead and Paul Heelas, the researchers found that organized Christianity will be eclipsed by New Age spirituality within the next generation, if current trends continue. Their new book, The Spiritual Revolution, documents this incredible transformation of Great Britain—a reversion of a largely Christianized culture to its pagan roots.
As Midgley explains, “Study after study appears to prove that people are increasingly losing faith in the church and the Bible and turning instead to mysticism in guises ranging from astrology to reiki and holistic healing. The Government, significantly, said this week that older people should be offered t’ai chi classes on the NHS [National Health Service] to promote their physical and mental well-being.”
Professor Heelas, a well-known specialist on the New Age movement, describes the trend toward new forms of paganism as a response to larger cultural shifts. “It’s a shift away from (the idea of) a hierarchical all-knowing institution and a move towards (having) the freedom to grow and develop as a unique person rather than going to church and being led.”
Beyond this, Heelas argues that the idea of life after death is receding in the minds of most modern persons. With Heaven gone from the horizon, individuals must find full satisfaction in this life. “A lot of the comfort of religion is in postponement—a better life after death,” Heelas explains. “But belief in Heaven is collapsing, so people believe it is more important to know themselves and make themselves better people now.”
The self stands at the very center of the New Age worldview, and an unembarrassed focus on the self is the driving force behind much of the new paganism. In an earlier work, The New Age Movement, Heelas described New Age philosophies as “the celebration of the self.” Most famously, this unapologetic worship of the self was illustrated by the New Age ramblings of actress Shirley MacLaine, who simply declared: “I am God. I am God. I am God.”
This is the inevitable result of the increasingly therapeutic worldview that marks the postmodern age. In a very real sense, humanistic psychology has become for the culture the direct route to repaganization. A focus on the centrality of the self has always been essential to the framework of humanistic psychology. As expressed by Carl Rogers, among the most influential of modern psychologists, “Experience for me is the highest authority.” Of course, that experience was mediated through nothing more authoritative than himself.
Accordingly, many modern persons are, as Roy Wallis explains, “epistemological individualists,” trusting only their own individualistic concept of “truth.” As Heelas summarizes, “The New Age shows what ‘religion’ looks like when it is organized in terms of what is taken to be the authority of the Self.”
This individualistic redefinition of religion is evident in the Kendal study. Residents of Kendal revealed a weakening of commitment to traditional Christianity—especially the Church of England—and a general willingness to reconceptualize religion in terms of self-esteem. As one woman explained her discovery of the New Age movement: “A one-hour service on a Sunday? It’s not really enough time to address your self-esteem issues, is it? I didn’t find any help in the churches. I found it in a 12-step program. That was the start of my personal journey.”
Julie Wise, a 44-year-old mother of two, explained that she left the Church of England because she no longer found her childhood faith meaningful. She explained that she discovered t’ai chi while visiting the city of Manchester. “It was like divine intervention,” she related. “It was one of the most beautiful, meaningful things I had ever seen.” As the researchers now report, Julie has become “an Infinite T’ai Chi practitioner” who performs “soul readings” as a way of seeing new patterns of life and releasing new energies. As if Anglicanism was not sufficiently mired in trouble already, the researchers report that Victor de Waal, a former Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, is a regular visitor to a New Age center located in the town of Dent. “I don’t see it as an alternative; I see it as deepening one’s faith,” the former dean explained. He went on to argue that his dabbling in the New Age was in no way inconsistent with his Christian commitments, because the “spirituality” he now practiced is “not committed to a particular tradition,” but open to all.
One of the fascinating aspects of this new study is the extent to which the researchers indicate that a desire to avoid particularistic truth claims lies at the heart of New Age appeal. Elizabeth Forder, who leads the spirituality center at Dent, describes this aspect of the movement: “We are not affiliated to any religion and there is no belief system imposed on anybody here. I was brought up a Christian, but it held no real meaning for me. I would class myself as a universalist, believing that all religions offer the same end. At its simplest, meditation is giving the body and mind a very deep level of rest, freeing us to be ourselves.”
As sociologist Steve Bruce explains, the New Age worldview “solves the problem of cultural pluralism.” This new model of “spirituality” offers meaning without doctrine, transcendence without dogma, and religious experience without any particular religious commitment. In other words, it is perfectly suited for those who have been drinking deeply from the wells of postmodernism and have accepted the basic worldview of humanistic psychology.
Writing just a few years ago, William Bloom, one of the major figures behind the rise of the new spirituality in Britain, spoke of the widening popularity of New Age consciousness. “Twenty-five years ago, when I first became involved in New Age thinking, it was distinctly embarrassing to talk locally about it. It was like being a vegetarian at a rugby club dinner . . . . Twenty-five years later, the movement is growing in strength and is in many ways an established part of contemporary culture . . . . Cherie Blair wears a pendant to ward off bad vibes in her final days of pregnancy. Prince Charles talks to plants. Oprah Winfrey leads a television revolution in which anyone and everyone can talk about their innermost secrets and seek instant healing.”
Not all are going along with this, of course. Pastor Brian Maiden of Parr Street Evangelical Church in Kendal told Carol Midgley, “The people of Britain have been inoculated with a dead, mild form of Christianity, which has given them resistance to the real thing. It has been diluted with human philosophy. People want to be told what to do and how to do it. Often they don’t realize that’s what they want until they hear it.”
Responding to the self-centered worldview of New Age spirituality, Maiden corrected the misrepresentations of Christianity made by so many in the movement. “Christianity isn’t about us trying to make ourselves better people,” the pastor explained. “It is about God trying to do something for us 2,000 years ago which redeemed people.”
As for his church: “The message here is traditional Protestantism,” he retorted. “We teach the message of the Gospels and that there will be a Judgment.”
Well, hats off to Pastor Maiden, whose bold and courageous ministry offers the only ray of light found in this picture. He knows the difference between biblical Christianity and the narcissistic worldview of New Age spirituality.
Clearly, Pastor Maiden is bucking the trend even as he holds fast to the historic Christian faith. In so doing, he and his church now serve as a missionary outpost in the midst of a land quickly becoming repaganized in the early years of the twenty-first century.
The wide scale rejection of Christianity and the eager embrace of humanistic psychology and the new religion of the self marks a turning point in Western culture and serves as a wake up call to the Christian church.
We must now realize that, in this increasingly paganized age, our Christian task is to talk about God and tell persons of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, knowing that many of these people now believe that they are gods.
Visitors to Britain love to visit Stonehenge and other ancient monuments to the nation’s pagan past. Tragically enough, the old paganisms are now resurgent, as a tepid and compromising Christianity is in retreat. Don’t think it can’t happen here.
by Jonah Goldberg
God, unlike, say, North Dakota, has an uncanny gift for staying in the headlines. Often enough He has His bitterest adversaries to thank for the press. Michael Newdow, the man who fought to excise “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, is suing yet again to cleanse the public square of all references to the deity, supplying further proof that bad head-cases make for bad law. This time around Newdow has decided that “In God We Trust” on our money has been a symbol of theocratic oppression all these years and we didn’t even know it.
Another proud atheist, Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame, took to the air this week as part of NPR’s revived “This I Believe” series to deliver a passionate and condescending renunciation of God’s existence, mocking believers of all stripes for their faith in their “invisible little friend.”
Still, even the faithful do their part to surround the Lord in public controversy, as we see in the efforts on behalf of “Intelligent Design,” the belief that God takes time out of his schedule to nudge evolution along.
We’ll have all year to gripe about the public policy issues on both sides of the God divide. But since this is Thanksgiving, I thought maybe we could take the discussion in another direction. Thanksgiving, after all, is first and foremost about giving thanks (a close second is the tradition of lying on the couch eating super-nummy turkey sandwiches off your belly like a sea otter munching a crab leg).
And if you’re going to give thanks, you’ll need someone to give thanks to. Typically, that would be God - although, no doubt, if Messrs. Newdow and Jillette got their way, we’d direct our thanks to a large coalition of benefactors, including everything from a random universe and primordial ooze to the guy who delivered the turkey. But God himself? He’d be left off the thank you card list.
In the current issue of The Atlantic, Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology and linguistics at that New Haven trade school otherwise known as Yale, offers an interesting perspective on the whole God thing. He makes a very powerful case that belief - or a tendency toward belief - in the supernatural in general and God in particular is hardwired into our systems from birth. His article is titled “Is God an Accident?”
Citing among other things some very clever experiments with babies and young children - don’t worry, no babies were harmed in the process of writing his article - Bloom argues that we come into this world preprogrammed to divide the world into spirits and objects, or minds and bodies. This, argues Bloom, is an evolutionary adaptation designed for one thing - socialization - which has made us susceptible to another thing: religion.
We aren’t “supposed” to believe in God. But in addition to our evolved tendency to split the world into spirit and object, our operating systems are also set up to want to believe that everything happens for a reason. Our brains don’t like randomness, so we assume that there is an intelligence or purpose behind events, something that requires things to happen the way they do.
Bloom’s argument is polite, informed, insightful - and annoying.
Scientists often fall into a fallacious tendency, after studying and describing something according to the methods of their discipline, to believe that their appraisal of it is somehow more real than the thing itself.
Evolutionary psychologists have explained almost every human interaction from grocery shopping to men throwing themselves on live grenades in clinical terms. But that doesn’t make them clinical events. Marxists did the same thing - actually, they still do at some of our finer universities. They’d point to the class interests that supposedly compel this or that behavior and call it a day. But anybody not already converted to the faith understood that while Marxism might sometimes offer interesting insights, to mistake the Marxist story for the whole story would be no different than a lie. Science is wonderful at explaining what science is wonderful at explaining, but beyond that it tends to look for its car keys where the light is good.
For example, according to evolutionary totalitarians, I love my wife because I want to propagate my genes and attain an exemplary mother for my children. That may or may not be true, but that is hardly the whole truth. For whatever electrochemical signals my brain may be receiving, my awareness of their existence doesn’t diminish the fact that I love my wife or that I think love is something more than mere electrochemical signals.
Some have defined God “as love.” That’s not my personal definition, but it’s not a bad one. Both God and love defy science’s attempts to define them. Whatever science tells us about either, we know that’s not all there is to say. Scientists should be skeptical, but I would have found Bloom’s article just as interesting and informative if “by accident” was changed to “on purpose.”
Indeed, considering that religious belief has coincided with the fairly remarkable success of humans vis-a-vis the atheistic Dodo bird, perhaps religious insight isn’t gratuitous programming after all?
Perhaps humans aren’t so stupid for believing that turkey sandwich ended up on their belly for reasons more profound than mere electrochemical coincidences a billion years ago. Whatever those reasons are, Lord knows I’m grateful for them.
An atheist group in Utah has filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District to remove steel crosses posted on roads which memorialize highway patrol officers who have died while on duty.
American Atheists, Inc. says that the placement of the 12-feet-high metal crosses on public property along the Utah Highway Patrol beehive insignia on them is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the state.
The suit names various officials within the UHP and the Utah Transportation Department. The group seeks $1 in damages and a court order that the crosses be removed, according to the Associate Press. The request has drawn harsh reactions from family members of fallen officers.
Michael Rivers, one of the plaintiffs feels the memorial should be completely secular.
“We feel the department of transportation, by allowing the Utah Highway Patrol Association to pick a religious symbol is unfair. We think it should be totally secular with no religious theme,” Rivers said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
“[The cross] is a Christian religious symbol. People will look at those and automatically assume that religion is a part of it,” he added.
The UHP Patrol Association, a nonprofit private organization is supporting its officers.
“Our statement right now without seeing (the lawsuit) is that we stand behind our troopers and the sacrifice they made, which is the ultimate sacrifice for the citizens of Utah,” said trooper Jeff Nigbur, a Utah Highway Patrol spokesman, according to the Associated Press.
“Obviously we’re going to try to keep those crosses there in their memory,” he said.
Some family members say some would be devastated if the crosses were removed.
“Without using extremely bad words, my family would be devastated,” said Lori Lucas, whose father Tom Rettberg died while flying a UHP helicopter in February of 2000. “It would be like disturbing and uprooting my father’s coffin.”
Lucas’ mother visits her husband’s cross next to Interstate 15 about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
“It gives us a sense of pride for my father that he sacrificed his life for the community,” she said.
Dave Tabish, who owns an insurance company based in Salt Lake City was incensed that the group was trying to remove the cross.
“We’ve taken God out of the schools, out of our council meetings and taken the Ten Comandments out of government,” he said. “It’s time we stand up and put God back in our country.”
He says he will organize a march in support of the crosses and picket the courthouse if a court proceeding takes place.
There are signs of faith and prayer everywhere you look in sports these days.
Players kneeling in prayer on the field after NFL games. Fingers pointed skyward after home runs, touchdowns and victories. Signs for chapel services in baseball clubhouses. Bible study and Christian fellowship groups at high school and college campuses across the country.
“I don’t think a relationship with the Lord only occurs in church or only in your own private lives,” says University of Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar. “Every moment you walk, you want to live in such a manner that you are acknowledging God’s presence. ... I don’t think we turn it on and off.”
But not everyone is comfortable getting God into the game. Five years after the Supreme Court reaffirmed a ban on officially sponsored prayer in public schools with a ruling that said students couldn’t lead crowds in prayer before football games, the question of who can pray together — and how — is far from settled.
A New Jersey high school football coach filed suit against his district two weeks ago, asking for the right to pray with his team before games. Marcus Borden had prayed with his East Brunswick players for years until some parents complained this fall and he was ordered to stop.
The family of a former New Mexico State football player plans to file a federal lawsuit citing discrimination because he is Muslim. MuAmmar Ali says he was criticized for reciting a prayer from the Koran instead of the Lord’s Prayer that the rest of the team was saying after practice and was questioned about al Qaeda.
Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry was told last year to remove a banner from the locker room that displayed the “Competitor’s Creed,” including the lines, “I am a Christian first and last. ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.”
“A lot of these issues are manifestations of things that are good. Mainly, that we have pluralism,” says Richard Garnett, an associate professor of constitutional law at Notre Dame. “We are committed to two different values: government neutrality and the freedom of speech. I wouldn’t want to give up one for the other.”
But trying to find a middle ground is difficult and sometimes painful.
Mustafa Ali, Ali’s father, used to think that society could use more prayer in public arenas. He and some of his co-workers have moments of prayer at work, and neither he nor his son objected when the team ended practice with a prayer. But Ali says he was criticized when he and two other Muslim players held up their hands to their faces and recited the opening chapter of the Koran.
Ali says coach Hal Mumme later called him into his office to ask about al Qaeda. Ali, the team’s leading rusher last year, lost his starting job after the season opener and later was dismissed from the team.
A law firm hired by New Mexico State to investigate a grievance filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Ali’s behalf said it found no evidence of religious discrimination. But Ali’s father says the family plans to pursue its complaint in a federal lawsuit. A call to New Mexico State was not returned.
“I think prayer is good. I’m actually for more of it, to be honest,” Mustafa Ali says. “But I also think in these situations, the person should be able to pray how they want to pray. When you have a prayer that is a set prayer, then you alienate others and make them feel uncomfortable. It isn’t as simple as people think it is.”
The separation of church and state doesn’t prevent students from praying at public schools or during school-sponsored activities such as athletics. Equal-access laws have cleared the way for student-led religious groups, as long as they are voluntary.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has groups at 8,000 junior high schools, high schools and colleges throughout the country, reaching 350,000 student-athletes, says Dan Britton, FCA’s senior vice president of ministry programs. Eighty percent of the groups are in high schools.
Problems arise when an authority figure such as a coach, or the school itself, is involved. In a 2000 ruling that banned students from leading pregame prayers over loudspeakers, the Supreme Court said the Santa Fe, Texas, school district was giving the impression of sponsorship. Students were using school equipment and were under the direction of a faculty member.
Borden, the East Brunswick High School coach, resigned Oct. 7 after being told that he couldn’t pray with his players or even be present at their pregame prayers. He returned a week later after hiring an attorney.
Former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, whose strong faith is well known, says he never considered a player’s participation, or lack thereof, in team prayers when determining playing time, but he understands that some might think he did.
“It does put the kid in a position because you’re the coach and he could be intimidated by that and not want to incur your wrath,” McCartney says. “So I think that issue does exist.”
Romar’s Washington players have voluntary Bible study, and the coach prays with them before games. But both are done at the players’ initiative, Romar says, adding that he didn’t even know about the pregame prayers at first.
Although teams such as Romar’s seem to have found a balance, the struggle for others will continue regardless of how many lawsuits or complaints are filed. The separation of church and state is a bedrock of American society, but so, too, is the presence of faith. This is a country in which “In God We Trust” is printed on coins and dollar bills.
“We’ve always had this middle ground between established church and an entirely secular public life,” says Mr. Garnett, the Notre Dame law professor. “The only way to really eliminate it is for one side to completely eradicate the other, and I wouldn’t want that to happen.”
by Chuck Colson
Is hate a disease? Some psychiatrists think so. This was the subject of a recent Washington Post article, entitled “Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness.” The title suggests the ominous implications.
The Post explains, “Mental health practitioners say they regularly confront extreme forms of racism, homophobia and other prejudice in the course of therapy, and that some patients are disabled by these beliefs. As doctors increasingly weigh the effects of race and culture on mental illness, some are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis.”
In short, several psychiatrists are now pushing for racists and people who suffer from “homophobia” to be labeled mentally ill.
Could such a label possibly be justified? Well, the Post tries to make the case by telling about a man who turned down a job because he feared a co-worker might be gay, and who would not go places where he thought he might run into a gay person. Now that was an extreme case. The man did indeed have a phobia that was interfering with his life, and probably needed help. The man’s psychiatrist told the paper, “He felt under attack, he felt threatened.” Normally, that would be called paranoia. We wouldn’t be developing some new mental illness.
Just think about where this could lead: In short order, we might begin to put people who strongly oppose homosexual behavior on the same level as people who suffer irrational fears of gays, and declare both people mentally ill. After all, the American Psychiatric Association says that homosexual behavior is normal. So to strongly oppose it would be irrational. It’s a very short step from there to saying that this person is suffering from “pathological bias.”
Already, the California Department of Corrections is experimenting with drugs to eliminate prejudices. “We treat racism and homophobia as delusional disorders,” reported Shama Chaiken, the department’s chief psychologist. A number of distinguished scientists agree that the “clinical experience informs us that racism may be a manifestation of the delusional process.” Sometimes that’s true, as with a woman mentioned in the Post who was deathly afraid of Jewish people. But it’s not true that racism or homophobia always signal mental disorder. And if we do not make that crucial distinction, we are asking for big trouble.
It may sound extreme, but this is the beginning of a process that has long been popular with tyrants. In the Soviet Union, Christians were sent by the hundreds of thousands to mental institutions. The state was officially atheist, so if you believe that there was a God, you were insane. And it’s still a wonderful tool for oppressors in places like China and North Korea.
There’s another side to this. As a psychiatrist told the Washington Post, if we began to call bias a mental illness, it would let criminals off the hook for any behavior. It will take a few years, of course, to go all through the medical and clinical analyses and deliberations of the American Psychiatric Association.
But if the day should come that opposition to homosexual conduct is labeled homophobia, and homophobia labeled delusional, then it is a very short step to saying that belief in the Bible, which labels that conduct sinful, is also a mental disorder.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Cheap Monday jeans are a hot commodity among young Swedes thanks to their trendy tight fit and low price, even if a few buyers are turned off by the logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead.
Logo designer Bjorn Atldax says he’s not just trying for an antiestablishment vibe.
“It is an active statement against Christianity,” Atldax told The Associated Press. “I’m not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike for organized religion.”
The label’s makers say it’s more of a joke, but Atldax insists his graphic designs have a purpose beyond selling denim: to make young people question Christianity, a “force of evil” that he blames for sparking wars throughout history.
In more religious countries, that might raise a furious response, maybe even prompt retailers to drop the brand.
Not in Sweden, a secular country that cherishes its free speech and where churchgoing has been declining for decades.
Cheap Mondays are flying off the shelves at 400 kronor (about $50) a pair. Makers say about 200,000 pairs have been sold since March 2004 — and little attention has been paid to the grinning skull and dark texts such as “Over My Dead Body.”
Even the predominant Lutheran Church of Sweden reacts with a shrug.
“I don’t think it’s much to be horrified about,” said Bo Larsson, director of the Church of Sweden’s department of Education, Research and Culture.
“It is abundantly clear that this designer wants to create public opinion against the Christian faith ... but I believe that the way to deal with this is to start a discussion about what religion means.”
Out in the parishes, however, some Christians believe that approach is too soft.
“One cannot just keep quiet about this,” said the Rev. Karl-Erik Nylund, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Stockholm. “This is a deliberate provocation (against Christians) and I object to that.”
Nylund complained that Swedish companies do not treat Christianity with the same respect in marketing that they afford other religions.
“No one wants to provoke Jews or Muslims, but it’s totally OK to provoke Christians,” he said.
Some buyers have ripped off the Cheap Monday labels, or even returned the jeans once they realized what the logo represents. But such cases are very few, said Orjan Andersson, the creator of the brand, who doesn’t take Atldax’ message too seriously.
“I don’t believe in neither the devil nor God. I’m not interested in religion,” he said. “I’m more interested in that the logo looks good.”
Henrik Petersson, 26, said he picked up his first pair of Cheap Monday jeans a few months after they were launched because he liked their punk-rocker style and the logo caught his eye.
“I think it’s a cool thing. It stands out from the rest,” he said. “I haven’t really reflected over whether there is an underlying message.”
Martin Sundberg, a 32-year-old co-owner of a clothing store in Stockholm’s trendy SoFo district, said he didn’t think the logo has a “deeper meaning.”
“It’s just supposed to be a bit of fun, some kind of anti-culture,” he said.
Cheap Mondays have started to sell abroad. The jeans are being shipped to Norway, Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands, France and Australia. Andersson said they’re working on introducing them in the United States and elsewhere.
And he did not expect the ungodly logo to get in the way.
“Surely, most people understand that we are not evil people,” he said, laughing. “My mom doesn’t think so at least.”
[KH: look for him on Judgment Day and witness his aweful end!]
Controversial scientist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins, dubbed “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” calls religion a “virus” and faith-based education “child abuse” in a two-part series he wrote and appears in that begins airing on the UK’s Channel 4, beginning tomorrow evening.
Entitled “Root of All Evil?,” the series features the atheist Dawkins visiting Lourdes, France, Colorado Springs, Colo., the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and a British religious school, using each of the venues to argue religion subverts reason.
In “The God Delusion,” the first film in the series, Dawkins targets Catholicism at the pilgrimage site in Lourdes. “If you want to experience the medieval rituals of faith, the candle light, the incense, music, important-sounding dead languages, nobody does it better than the Catholics,” he says.
Dawkins, using his visit to Colorado Springs’ New Life Church, criticizes conservative U.S. evangelicals and warns his audience of the influence of “Christian fascism” and “an American Taliban.”
The backdrop of the al-Aqsa mosque and an American-born Jew turned fundamentalist Muslim who tells Dawkins to prepare for the Islamic world empire – and who clashes with him after saying he hates atheists – rounds out the first program’s case for the delusions of the faithful.
In part two, “The Virus of Faith,” Dawkins attacks the teaching of religion to children, calling it child abuse.
“Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods,” he says. “It’s time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation. Isn’t it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents’ religion?”
“Sectarian religious schools,” Dawkins asserts, have been “deeply damaging” to generations of children.
Dawkins, who makes no effort to disguise his atheism and contempt for religion, focuses on the Bible, too.
“The God of the Old Testament has got to be the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous, and proud of it, petty, vindictive, unjust, unforgiving, racist,” he says. Dawkins then criticizes Abraham, compares Moses to Hitler and Saddam Hussein, and calls the New Testament “St Paul’s nasty, sado-masochistic doctrine of atonement for original sin.”
John Deighan, a spokesman for the Catholic Church, took issue with Dawkin’s denunciation of religion, telling the Glasgow Sunday Herald, “Dawkins is well known for his vitriolic attacks on faith, and I think faith has withstood his attacks. He really is going beyond his abilities as a scientist when he starts to venture into the field of philosophy and theology. He is the guy with demonstrable problems.”
Madeline Bunting, a columnist for the Guardian, who reviewed the series, wrote: “There’s an aggrieved frustration that [atheist humanists] have been short-changed by history – we were supposed to be all atheist rationalists by now. Secularization was supposed to be an inextricable part of progress. Even more grating, what secularization there has been is accompanied by the growth of weird irrationalities from crystals to ley lines. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the problem when people don’t believe in God is not that they believe nothing, it is that they believe anything.”
Dawkins, perhaps best known for his much-cited comment that evolution “made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist,” appeals to John Lennon in a commentary he authored for the Belfast Telegraph on the eve of his program’s premiere: “Religion may not be the root of all evil, but it is a serious contender. Even so it could be justified, if only its claims were true. But they are undermined by science and reason. Imagine a world where nobody is intimidated against following reason, wherever it leads. “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.”
When President Bush talks about Iraq, he emphasizes the spread of democracy as key to fighting terrorism. He has described his resolve to fight radical Islamists in religious terms, but he has stopped short of characterizing it as a war between Christendom and Islam. “It should be clear to all that Islam — the faith of one-fifth of humanity — is consistent with democratic rule,” Mr. Bush has said. But the president chose not to talk about secularism, which is necessary to a functioning democracy.
Alas, even Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says his country is neither a secular nor a religious state. But it should be clear that secularism is an inevitable part of democratic societies. And regardless of whether people accept it technically or officially, a “religious war” is taking place.
On New Year’s Day, The Washington Times ran a front-page story detailing an attack in Palau, Indonesia, by suspected Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists, who bombed a market that sold only pig and dog meat. The blast killed eight peopleand wounded at least 45 — the year’s first deaths in the name of religion. But it is also important to stress that Jemaah Islamiyah wants to establish an Islamic state in secular Indonesia.
This “war” isn’t limited to violence, however. In other parts of the world, attacking faith has become fashion. On the same day, the paper also carried a story about a hip new line of jeans in Sweden. “A punk-rock style, trendy tight fit and affordable price have made Cheap Monday jeans a hot commodity among young Swedes, but what has people talking is the brand’s ungodly logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead,” the story read. The designer, Bjorn Atldax, called the logo “an active statement against Christianity.”
Secularism is not about atheism. Ultimately, democracy — which truly lives up to the name only if it’s secular — is about tolerance and respect for others, both in the minority and in the majority. Secularism emerged in Europe centuries ago, when monarchies overthrew the pope’s theocratic hegemony and established their own rule. People fled to the United States to be able to practice their religions freely — and the United States has never known a religious war.
Turkey did not fight a religious war, as well. Yet its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, established a secular republic, abolishing the caliphate. Still there are some Turkish nationals who don’t really believe in secularism as a model for society.
Today, there is an ongoing debate about the practice of secularism. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan endorses U.S.-style secularism. As a man rooted in Islamic traditions, he wants to allow women to wear headscarves in public. This represents a significant challenge to Turkey’s political system, as the one and only secular democracy whose population is majority Sunni Muslim.
Until recently, the European Union criticized the Turkish government that opposed the practice, misguidedly calling it a violation of human’s rights to not allow this public expression of faith. But faced with the issue on its own, France banned all religious symbols to be displayed in schools and government offices. President Jacques Chirac told his people that unity depends upon “the principle of secularism...It expresses our wish to live together in respect, dialogue, and tolerance. Secularism guarantees freedom of conscience.” Also, that same EU applies extra scrutiny to potential immigrants whose wives and daughters wear headscarves. They question their attitudes about modernity. As a result, Turkish Islamists find themselves in a quandary, trying to figure out Europe’s “secular” standards.
Perhaps they’d find a clearer answer on this side of the Atlantic. Former President Reagan said of the United States: “We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not to believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief. At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral.”
But can a government be “strictly neutral” if most of its population practices the same religion within the same sect? The current Turkish government chooses to interpret the headscarf as a right to Muslim women. The question is, how will the majority — in Turkey — tolerate minority religious views, much less ensure their protection? It cannot. Given that, France was right to ban all religious symbols from the public sphere. But the EU was wrong when it refused to stand with Turkish secularists when they needed European support the most. And if such confusion continues, Turkey could fall victim to the same kind of violence that has occurred in Indonesia, as the clash between secular ideals and religious faith continues.
Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.
A small-town parish priest in Italy will face a legal hearing this week after an atheist man accused him of unlawfully asserting that Jesus Christ existed.
Fr. Enrico Righi and his lawyers will appear in court this Friday because of a September 2002 complaint filed by Luigi Cascioli. Cascioli, a lifelong atheist, filed the complaint after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus Christ was a historical figure born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, according to reports.
Cascioli, 74, based his complaint on two Italian laws that he asserts Righi violated: the “abuse of popular belief” – in which someone fraudulently deceives people, and “impersonation” – where someone benefits by assigning a false name to someone, according to AP.
The lifelong atheist says he has no problem with Christians freely professing their faith but wants to “denounce the abuse that the Catholic Church commits by availing itself of its prestige in order to inculcate – as if being real and historical – facts that are really just inventions,” AP reported.
The plaintiff accused the Roman Catholic Church of deceiving people for 2,000 years that Jesus existed, and says the church has profit financially by “impersonating” as Christ someone by the name of John of Gamala, who was the son of Judas from Gamala.
In addition, Cascioli says the Gospels are inconsistent, full of errors, biased and cannot hold up to scholarly analysis.
Italian prosecutors had initially tried to get the case dismissed, but Cascioli was persistent and challenged them.
The hearing this week will discuss preliminary motions in Cascioli’s proposal to have the court appoint technical experts to review the historical data and determine if Jesus really did exist.
Cascioli, who was schoolmates with Righi when he was young, says it did not matter who he named in his complaint.
“When one demonstrates that Christ didn’t exist, attacking a simple priest is the same thing as attacking a bishop or cardinal,” Cascioli said according to AP.
Righi argues that the existence of Jesus is “unmistakable” and there is substantial historical evidence – both pagan and religious – to support the Church’s claim.
In his parish bulletin, “Awaken,” Righi wrote in response to Cascioli’s attack, “You would have to give lie to each, one by one, to cancel the Christ man that they speak of.”
R. Scott Appleby, a professor of church history at the University of Notre Dame, agrees with Righi and said there is “no real doubt” that Jesus existed.
“But what Jesus of Nazareth did and what he means is a different question,” Appleby said to AP. “But on the question of the existence, there is more evidence of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there would be for many other historical people who actually existed. Not only did Jesus actually exist, but he actually had some kind of prominence to be mentioned in two or three chronicles.”
Cascioli says that his ultimate goal is to take the issue to the European Court of Human Rights and the complaint in Italy is a mere necessary legal step in the process.
“I was born against Christ and God,” he said. “I’m doing it (the complaint) now because I should do it before I die.”
“I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the Church,” he said according to The Sydney Morning Herald. [KH: I pity his aweful aweful end on Judgment Day.]
VITERBO, Italy — An Italian judge heard arguments Friday on whether a small-town parish priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed.
The priest’s atheist accuser, Luigi Cascioli, says the Roman Catholic Church has been deceiving people for 2,000 years with a fable that Christ existed, and that the Rev. Enrico Righi violated two Italian laws by reasserting the claim.
Lawyers for Righi and Cascioli, old schoolmates, made their arguments in a brief, closed-door hearing before Judge Gaetano Mautone in Viterbo, north of Rome. They said they expected the judge to decide quickly.
Cascioli filed a criminal complaint in 2002 after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus did indeed exist, and that he was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.
Cascioli claims that Righi’s assertion constituted two crimes under Italian law: so-called “abuse of popular belief,” in which someone fraudulently deceives people; and “impersonation,” in which someone gains by attributing a false name to a person.
“The point is not to establish whether Jesus existed or not, but if there is a question of possible fraud,” Cascioli’s attorney, Mauro Fonzo, told reporters before the hearing.
Cascioli says the church has been gaining financially by “impersonating” as Christ someone by the name of John of Gamala, the son of Judas from Gamala.
He has said he has little hope of the case succeeding in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy, but that he is merely going through the necessary legal steps to reach the European Court of Human Rights, where he intends to accuse the church of what he calls “religious racism.”
Righi, 76, has stressed substantial historical evidence — both Christian and non-Christian — of Jesus’ existence.
“Don Righi is innocent because he said and wrote what he has the duty to say and write,” Righi’s attorney, Severo Bruno, told reporters.
He said he told Mautone during the hearing that Righi was not asserting a historical fact when he wrote of Jesus’ existence, but rather “an expression of theological principles.”
“When Don Righi spoke about Christ’s humanity ... he was affirming that he needs to be considered as a man. What his name is, where he comes from or who his parents are is secondary,” he said.
Fonza said he countered that there have long been questions of Christ’s existence and that the matter warranted discussion in the court.
“When somebody states a wrong fact, abusing the ignorance of people, and gains from that, that is one of the gravest crimes,” Cascioli told reporters.
Righi’s brother, Luigi Righi, attended the hearing and said his brother was “serene but bitter.”
A judge in Italy rejected a suit brought forward by an atheist who had accused a Catholic priest of deceiving the public by saying that Jesus Christ existed.
Judge Gaetano Mautone, who issued the ruling in Viterbo, a town just north of Rome, also said in his decision that the plaintiff, 72-year-old Luigi Cascioli, should be investigated for possible slander, according to the Associated Press. Cascioli had claimed that by teaching about Jesus’ existence, the Rev. Fr. Enrico Righi, 76, had violated Roman laws prohibiting “abuse of popular belief” and “impersonation.”
Righi, who was a childhood schoolmate of Cascioli in a seminary, was “very satisfied and moved” by the outcome, according to Bruno Severo, Righi’s attorney.
“He is an old, small-town parish pries who never would have thought he’d be in the spotlight for something like this,” Severo said, according to AP.
Righi, meanwhile, thanked God that the ordeal was over.
“I’m glad it has ended like this because imagine if it had gone on,” the priest told Reuters.
Cascioli sued Righi after the priest wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus existed, that he was born to a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, and that he lived in Nazareth. Righi had asserted that there was plenty of historical evidence to prove Jesus’ existence.
The abuse charge, according to Cascioli, was directed at the priest and by extension the Catholic Church for spreading falsehoods for 2000 years. The impersonation charge had to do with Cascioli’s belief that accounts of Jesus were based upon a Jewish revolutionary named John of Gamala.
Cascioli claimed in his complaint to the court that he didn’t want to inhibit the freedom of Christians to worship, but rather to “denounce the abuse that the Catholic Church commits by availing itself of its prestige in order to inculcate – as if being real and historical – facts that are really just inventions.”
When told by the judge that prosecutors should investigate Cascioli for possible slander, the atheist said that if he was tried for slander, prosecutors would have to prove that Jesus existed, according to Reuters.
“They don’t have any proof,” said Cascioli, who had previously stated that he did not expect his case to succeed in the mostly Roman Catholic nation of Italy.
“This is not surprising but it doesn’t mean it all ends here,” he said.
According AP, Cascioli is considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“This is an important case and it deserves to go ahead,” he said.
Review by Judith Niewiadomski (bio | archive | contact )
Self-anointed progressives will be enraged if they read Victory of Reason, for Dr. Stark says that science is the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine. Tracing progressive developments from farming techniques to the mechanization of cloth making, the invention of eyeglasses, chimneys and clocks, and the use of water power, Dr. Stark shows how the Christian ideas of reason and progress are in fact at the roots of scientific development, economic prosperity and political freedom.
Contrary to the usual teaching of the Middle Ages as a Dark Age, cut off from the wonders of Roman architecture and technology, Dr. Stark shows that medieval Europeans were healthier, freer, and more prosperous than the average Roman. Freed from Roman imperial despotism, medieval Europeans developed and expanded technologies that the Romans never did, because Romans were content to use slave labor. Christian Europe eliminated slavery on the principle of the equality of man before God, developed local systems of mutual obligation and quickly made widespread application of new technologies.
Victory of Reason brings a new and much needed perspective on the history of Western civilization. While the Greeks talked about reason, their religious beliefs kept them from applying it and achieving what Christian Europeans did. The universe, in the Greek view—like that of modern secularists—was eternal and uncreated, locked into an endless cycle of progress and decay. This idea promotes endless speculation but prevents the development of and search for immutable physical principles. Man was essentially a victim of the arbitrary and capricious gods he had made in his own image, yet could never understand. But the Christian God was a God of order and rationality, revealed in a written standard and immutable principles that man, by study and reason, could not only understand but applied to all aspects of life. The Christian view of reason made the so-called Dark Ages a period of profound enlightenment in both the material and intellectual spheres, which, when combined with Christian doctrines of moral equality, created a whole new world based on political, economic, and personal freedom.
Countering contemporary secularists’ claim that Christianity inhibits science and progress, Dr. Stark says that Greek learning was a barrier to science, because it was based on fundamental assumptions that were antithetical to science, viewing the world as a huge, conscious, living organism having both intellect and soul. Science is the natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine, which held the unique conviction that progress was a God-given obligation, entailed in the gift of reason (One might also compare the fruit of Jimmy Carter’s inaugural vision that the American people can no longer expect progress as their birthright with the grand visions of Presidents Reagan and Bush).
The importance of the individual, free will, and personal responsibility is rooted in Christianity, in the belief in a God who numbers the hairs on each of our heads. Freedom is another concept that doesn’t exist in most cultures; there isn’t even a word for freedom in most non-European languages.
Prior to the development of capitalism in Christian Europe, most of the world’s trade was not free trade which would have enabled the majority of people to prosper, but extraction, a traffic in tribute and rent that did not generate income as real trade does but impoverished those from whom it was extorted.
Capitalism (the investment of wealth to increase productivity and wealth, rather than merely consuming it) requires free markets, unforced labor and secure property rights. Dr. Stark traces its development from self-sufficient medieval monastic estates to their expansion and specialization into centers of economic growth as they added schools, offices, workshops, and storehouses and reinvested their income in better technology and buying more land to farm.
A wealthy Roman family required huge estates (worked by slaves) to live in style. In the Middle Ages, thanks to the monastic principles of simple living, hard work, and good management, capitalism brought immense wealth to orders having only modest flocks and fields. In non-Christian societies, the wealthy looked down upon work and commerce. Even Eastern holy men meditated and lived by charity, while Christian monks lived by their own labor, sustaining highly productive estates. Italian city-states were another example of medieval capitalism, the first instance of communities that lived entirely by trade.
Of particular interest in these days of eminent domain debate are Dr. Stark’s insights on command economies and property rights. Despotic states produce universal avarice. When wealth is subject to devastating taxes and the constant threat of usurpation, the challenge is to keep one’s wealth, not to make it productive. But a capitalist economy maximizes productivity, since private property is secure and work is not coerced. Thus, people benefit directly from their productive efforts, which motivate them to produce more. Contrasting British colonies in North America with Spain’s in Latin America demonstrates the difference.
The British colonies were founded on production, the Spanish colonies on extraction. England was a land of shopkeepers, i.e., small businessmen; Spain was a land of huge (feudal) estates and agricultural laborers only slightly above serfdom. Spanish colonies were settled by those who did not plan to stay but merely to sojourn in pursuit of sudden wealth, whereas British colonies were founded by those seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity, men and women alike, who committed themselves to a new life. British colonies enjoyed a high level of local political autonomy based on relatively democratic institutions. The Spanish colonies were ruled by oligarchies.
Spain’s economy, like Rome’s, was based not on what individuals produced but upon what it took from others, enriching a few while impoverishing others. Government’s limitations on business and production and high taxes suppressed production and investment. Not only did the immense wealth brought back to Spain bring no significant development to Spain, which remained an undeveloped, feudal nation, Spanish imperialism also destroyed capitalism in Italy and the Netherlands. The costs of empire bled immense wealth from Spain, helping to preserve it as a nation of impoverished peasants dependent on imports not only for manufactured products, but even for sufficient food. Similarly, for want of both freedom and capitalism, Islamic nations remain in semi-feudalism, incapable of manufacturing most of the items they need in daily life. Their standards of living require massive imports paid for with oil money just as Spain enjoyed the fruits of other nations’ industry so long as it was kept afloat by gold and silver from the New World. Without secure property rights and substantial individual freedom, modern societies cannot fully emerge.
The modern world arose only in Christian societies. all the modernization that has since occurred outside Christendom was imported from the West, often brought by colonizers and missionaries.
Everyone should master Victory of Reason, and it should be part of every course in Western Civilization and economics. It should be a resource for public policy, to refute those who think that secularism, confiscatory taxes and redistribution of earned wealth are the way to make everyone prosperous. As Dr. Stark puts it:
Without a theology committed to reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in 1800. A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists, a world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos. a world truly living in dark ages.
Robert Jensen is absolutely transparent in his atheism. “I don’t believe in God,” he asserts. That statement is simple enough, indicating a categorical denial in any belief in God.
Lest anyone mistake his atheism for mere theological confusion, Jensen went on to explain: “I don’t believe Jesus Christ was the son of a God that I don’t believe in, nor do I believe Jesus rose from the dead to ascend to a heaven that I don’t believe exists.”
What makes these statements all the more significant is that they appear in an article entitled, “Why I am a Christian (Sort Of),” in which Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, explains why he joined St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin.
As Jensen relates his story, he explains that he has joined the church as “more a political than a theological act.” In other words, Jensen sees the church of which he is now a member as more of a political than a theological institution.
“Standing before the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, I affirmed that I (1) endorsed the core principles in Christ’s teaching; (2) intended to work to deepen my understanding and practice of the universal love at the heart of those principles; and (3) pledged to be a responsible member of the church and to the larger community.”
Moving from that most minimal of confessional pledges, Jensen went on to claim: “So, I am a Christian, sort of. A secular Christian. A Christian atheist, perhaps. But, in a deep sense, I would argue, a real Christian.”
Of course, arguing that it is so does not make it so. Robert Jensen is a well-known political activist whose championing of liberal causes is a source of regular controversy at the University of Texas and beyond. He appears to enjoy his role as a self-anointed provocateur, and in this move to join a church, he has provoked an outcry from both orthodox Christians and his fellow atheists.
Why, after all, would an atheist even want to join a church that identifies with Christianity? More to the point, how could any church that holds even a minimal sense of Christian identity allow an atheist to join?
Jensen makes an unconvincing case concerning his own motivations. He explains that “whatever my beliefs about the nature about the non-material world or my views on spirituality, I live in a country that is extremely religious, especially compared to other technologically advanced industrial nations.” In some sense, Jensen appears to be making a “if you can’t beat them, join them” argument.
The cynical dimension of Jensen’s reason for joining the church becomes immediately apparent when he explains that, “since a vast majority of Americans define a ‘good American’ as one who holds to some religious faith, clearly there’s an advantage to being able to speak within a religious framework in the contemporary United States.”
The political motivation behind Jensen’s move is openly acknowledged. “So, my decision to join a church was more a political than a theological act. As a political organizer interested in a variety of social-justice issues, I look for places to engage people in discussion. In a depoliticized society such as the United States – where ordinary people in everyday spaces do not routinely talk about politics and its underlying values – church is one of the few places where such engagement is possible.”
Well, so much for Jensen’s reasons for attempting to join a church. The larger and more important question is how any church could justify accepting an atheist to join the church? In his article, published in the March 12, 2006 edition of The Houston Chronicle, Jensen explains, “the pastor and most of the congregation at St. Andrew’s understand my reasons for joining, realizing that I didn’t convert in a theological sense, but joined a moral and political community. There’s nothing special about me in this regard – many St. Andrew’s members I have talked to are seeking community and a place for spiritual, moral and political engagement. The church is expansive in defining faith; the degree to which members of the congregation believe in God and Christ in traditional terms varies widely. Many do, some don’t, and a whole lot of folks seem to be searching. St. Andrew’s offers a safe place and an exciting atmosphere for that search, in collaboration with others.”
So, here we find a congregation that, in the words of the atheist who is now accepted into its membership, is “expansive in defining faith.” This is a colossal understatement, to say the very least. In the case of this church, at least as is now claimed by Robert Jensen, this expansiveness includes those who claim no faith at all, at least in terms of any basic belief in God.
This statement gets to the heart of a widespread confusion about the nature and identity of the church. There may be strategic places which represent “a safe space and an exciting atmosphere” for a vague and wide-open spiritual quest, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with a Christian church.
By definition, a church is a fellowship of believers – those who have confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. The very fact that a contemporary congregation could celebrate allowing an atheist to join is an indication that such a congregation is, by biblical definition, a false church.
Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrew’s, a church affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), explains that allowing an atheist to join his church is a matter of building “connections.”
“Neither the church nor Jensen views his membership as surrendering anything,” Rigby insists, “but instead is an attempt to build connections. Such efforts are crucial in a world where there seems not to be a lot of wood to build the bridges we need. And the shame is, while we fight among ourselves, the world is burning.”
In making his case, “why we let an atheist join our church,” Rigby, like Jensen, connects church membership to political activism. “In my ministry, I have had to live in two worlds,” Rigby explains. “I have spiritual friends who are trying to celebrate the mystery of life and activist friends who are trying to change the world. Somehow these two enterprises have been separated, but I don’t believe either option represents a complete life. Apolitical spirituality runs the danger of giving charity instead of justice, while atheistic humanism runs the danger of offering facts instead of meaning. This divide between spirituality and activism is a betrayal of the deeper roots of both.”
What about the church’s confession of faith? Constitutionally, both the pastor and the church are accountable to the denomination’s revised confession of faith – a confession that, though significantly weakened by revision, still, we should note, requires belief in God. Rigby explains, “If God had wanted us to simply recite creeds, Jesus would have come as a parrot.”
The pastor also asks a most interesting question: “Is there still room in the church for Thomas [who questioned the Lord’s resurrection]?” This is the kind of sloppy, silly, and superficial theological argument that is so frequently the common fare in liberal Protestantism. Is Rigby seriously suggesting that Thomas was at any point an atheist? Where is the pastor’s acknowledgment that Thomas’ response to his encounter with the risen Lord was concluded by his own confession of faith: “My Lord and my God.”
Rigby has been involved in controversy before. St. Andrew’s is a congregation aligned with the “More Light” movement that is pressing for the acceptance of same-sex marriage and the ordination of active homosexuals within the Presbyterian Church (USA). As John H. Adams reports in The Presbyterian Layman, “St. Andrew’s is a More Light congregation whose pastor, Jim Rigby, was recently exonerated by a presbytery investigating committee, which decided he would not face trial for marrying same-gender couples during a homosexual activist event at the University of Texas. Rigby was never tried for the charges although he declared that he welcomed the trial because he married the couples as a matter of conscience.”
Just recently, John Judson, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, and chairman of the local presbytery’s Committee on Ministry, sent a letter to presbytery officials that stated: “It has come to our attention that a session within the bounds of the Mission Presbytery has received into membership an individual whom, according to his own writings, claims neither to believe in God nor to believe that Jesus Christ is who our historic Christian tradition and Scripture claim him to be.” Further, “We take this incident with great seriousness and want you to know that we will be sending a team from the Committee on Ministry to visit with this session and discover the facts and take whatever measures we feel appropriate to deal with the situation.”
We can only hope that this committee will take the measures that will be necessary in order to hold this church accountable to Scripture and the denomination’s confession of faith. Lacking this, the denomination will be accepting atheism as an acceptable confession of faith for the membership of its churches.
The loss of a biblical vision for the local church is one of the greatest tragedies of our times, leading to a weakened Christian witness and a deadly theological confusion both within and without the church. This is not a problem limited to one denomination or to a single congregation.
One urgent question remains – can a church that has allowed itself to move this far from theological orthodoxy ever be recovered? Time will tell. Nevertheless, short of a miracle, such a recovery doesn’t look likely. For, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is not only a congregation that has accepted an atheist into its membership – it is a congregation that remains proud of its own spiritual rebellion.
Frustration with the human condition has led many mortals astray. Indeed, the primal temptation that came to Adam and Eve in the garden was, in essence, to escape their own creaturely finitude and grasp after knowledge that had been forbidden them. Thus, by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve effectively redefined humanity, now “knowing the difference between good and evil.”
Efforts to transcend the natural limits of human life and experience are regular features of ancient mythologies and modern literature. Strangely enough, ideas and proposals once limited to the world of science fiction are now taken seriously in some scientific circles.
If you demand evidence for that assertion, just consider the “Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights” conference, held May 26-28 at the Stanford Law School.
Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and Special Consultant for the Center for Bioethics and Culture, attended the sessions and has offered this summary analysis: “If you want to know what it feels like to wander into a Salvador Dali painting, try attending a conference of transhumanists.”
Smith offers a rather comprehensive report on the conference in “The Catman Cometh – Among the Transhumanists,” published in the June 26, 2006 edition of The Weekly Standard. As he explains, “Transhumanism is a radical movement emanating from the universities that seeks to enhance human capacities via technology. The ultimate goal is a utopian world of ‘post-humans,’ such as human/robot hybrids and human consciousness downloaded into computers that will live for thousands of years.”
Consider some of the ideas that were floating around at the conference. Smith cites James Hughes, a professor of health policy at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, who argues that human beings must eradicate “human racism,” defined as the belief that humans should be accorded a special moral status just because they are human. Hughes is the author of Citizen Cyborg, a book that offers his vision of a transhumanist future. He argues that we must replace the notion of humanity with the concept of “personhood.” As Smith explains, “Under personhood theory, some humans would be excluded, but all self-aware entities – whether human, post-human, machine, chimera, or robot – would qualify for the rights, privileges, and protections of citizenship.”
Smith also reports that Nick Bostrom, cofounder of the World Transhumanists Association, is seeking to maintain some sense of “post-human dignity,” but he also denies that this dignity can be “based on substrata.” In other words, it should not matter whether a “being” is biological, or merely mechanical.
The conference also featured an ideological array including feminists like Annalee Newitz, who called for a transhumanist future in which female biology would be fixed, allowing women “better control over female evolution.” Women should not have to rely upon males for “genetic material” in the making of babies. Newitz, a contributing editor at Wired magazine, also argues that men should be surgically altered so that they can become biological mothers.
As Newitz states in the conference brochure, “For thousands of years, women have been subjected to a genetic engineering program known as patriarchy – from an evolutionary perspective, patriarchy is a system in which men choose mates for women, and it has affected the culture and genetic make up of countless generations. Today many of us live in post-patriarchal societies with fairly advanced reproductive technology. Can we use this technology in the service of a feminist genetic engineering project? I argue that we can.”
Human enhancement is the goal of many, if not all, of the participants. At times, the notion of “enhancement” takes on twisted forms. Susan Stryker, identified as “an internationally recognized independent scholar and filmmaker whose historical research and theoretical writings have helped shape the field of transgender studies,” joined with Nikki Sullivan of Macquarie University in Australia to present a paper entitled “King’s Body, Queen’s Member: State Sovereignty, Transsexual Surgery, and Self-Demand Amputation.”
As the conference program summarized their session: “we demonstrate how a discourse of bodily integrity has been deployed both for and against transsexual surgery and self-demand amputation at various historical moments and in differing social contexts. Drawing on Hobbes’ theory of sovereignty in Leviathan, as well as Foucault’s critique of centralized state authority, we argue that ‘integrity’ is not predicated on notions of natural, biologic, organic unity, but rather on the availability of the body as a source of biopower into the State’s projects. We thus arrive at a radically antihumanist understanding of political struggles that structure the occupation of one’s own embodied space, and which ultimately determine whether the body is available as a resource for subjective needs as well as state functions.”
Now you are a brave reader if you have attempted to unpack those last few sentences. Suffice it to say that Stryker and Sullivan are arguing that society treats human bodies as mere sources of “biopower” for the state’s purposes. Using a radical cultural analysis, they then argue that persons ought to be able to demand radical surgery on their bodies, even to the point of amputating healthy limbs, so they can meet their own subjective needs and no longer serve as “biopower” for the state. Got it?
Aubrey De Grey, biogerontologist at the University of Cambridge sought to redefine the right to life. “Humanity has long demonstrated a paradoxical ambivalence concerning the extension of healthy human lifespan,” he said in his catalog statement. “Modest health extension has been universally sought, whereas extreme (even indefinite) health extension has been regarded as a snare and delusion—a dream beyond all others at first blush, but actually something we are better off without.” Aubrey De Grey is not satisfied with that conclusion. Indeed, he calls for “curing aging” in order to expand the human lifespan without limit. He argues that humans “have a right to live as long as they wish to.” Thus, “Once we realize this, our determination to consign human aging to history will be second only to our shame that we took so long to break out of our collective trance.”
In other words, death is an evolutionary accident that should be eradicated by intentional intervention and biomedical advances. But, at least Aubrey De Grey was talking about humans. George Devorsky, on the other hand, argues that human beings must now biologically “uplift” non-human animals. As he explains, “As the potential for enhancement technologies migrates from the theoretical to the practical, a difficult and important decision will be imposed upon human civilization, namely the issue as to whether or not we are morally obligated to biologically enhance non-human animals and bring them along with us into advanced postbiological existence. There will be no middle road that we can take; humanity will either have to leave animals in their current state of nature or bring as many sentient creatures along into a posthuman future. A strong case can be made that life and civilizations on Earth have already been following this general tendency and that animal uplift will be a logical and reasonable developmental stage along this continuum of progress.”
So, even as the transhumanists want to transcend the limits of human existence, some also demand that the same “uplift” be extended to the animal kingdom as well. Why limit transhumanism to humans? Indeed, the other “beings” of concern at the conference were mechanical beings like robots. As Nick Bostram, a philosopher at Oxford University, argued, “we need to expand our concept of dignity to encompass posthuman dignity as well as human dignity. If human dignity is the grounding for human rights, this move directly leads us to consider the question of posthuman rights. I will address the issue of such rights in the context of the creation of artificial minds . . . and discuss some tentative ethical principles for defining our rights and responsibilities relative to our hypothetical future machine progeny, and their rights and responsibilities relative to their creators.”
No kidding. These scientists, theorists, and philosophers, teaching at some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world, were seriously considering granting recognition of human dignity to machines and robots. Even the language in the making of such proposals appears ludicrous on its face. What does it mean to speak of “hypothetical future machine progeny?” Beyond that, how can we speak of robots having “rights and responsibilities relative to their creators?” Once again, science fiction is treated as the coming reality. Is it?
As Wesley J. Smith argues, “We shouldn’t take all this too seriously, of course. Transhumanism is mostly an intellectual game, a fantasy. The technological breakthroughs necessary to create a true post-humanity will almost surely never come.” So, should we worry?
“But this doesn’t mean that transhumanism is benign – far from it,” Smith advises. “Dismissing the intrinsic value of human life is always dangerous, and presuming to determine which human traits are desirable and which not leads to very dark places.”
As Smith rightly reminds, a “new eugenics” has already arrived, with the abortion of the vast majority of babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and with the genetic screening of human embryos now urged upon us.
Furthermore, Smith notes that the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Commerce have called for spending billions of dollars pursuing the very technologies that the transhumanists envision. The National Institutes of Health granted $773,000 to Case Law School in order to determine the advisability of “ethically acceptable rules” concerning the use of genetic technologies for human enhancement.
The rise of the transhumanist movement is just one symptom of a primal sin that has affected humanity from Adam onward. Dissatisfied with the limits of our human condition, there is the natural impulse to exceed those limitations. Thus, entire industries have been developed, intended to offer the promise of a longer life, a better life, a different life, and the eclipse of human boundaries.
Yet human dignity rests upon a clear and unambiguous affirmation that we are, after all, creatures uniquely made in God’s image. The very fact that we are creatures reminds us of the fact that our Creator has the right to define and to determine what it means to be human. The problem with transhumanism is not merely in the details, or even in the likelihood that many of these technologies will never see the light of day. Indeed, the real problem is that the very urge and desire to eclipse human limitations is an act of defiance grounded in profound ingratitude. At the core of transhumanism is a basic hatred of humanity. The true humanists are those who accept with gratitude the gift of true humanity.
A new and unprecedented right is now the central focus of legal, procedural, and cultural concern in many corridors—a supposed right not to be offended. The cultural momentum behind this purported “right” is growing fast, and the logic of this movement has taken hold in many universities, legal circles, and interest groups.
The larger world received a rude introduction to the logic of offendedness when riots broke out in many European cities, prompted by a Dutch newspaper’s publishing of cartoons that reportedly mocked the Prophet Muhammad. The logic of the riots was that Muslims deserved never to be offended by any insult, real or perceived, directed to their belief system. Unthinking Christians may fall into the same pattern of claiming offendedness whenever we face opposition to our faith or criticism of our beliefs. The risk of being offended is simply part of what it means to live in a diverse culture that honors and celebrates free speech. A right to free speech means a right to offend, otherwise the right would need no protection.
These days, it is the secularists who seem to be most intent on pushing a proposed right never to be offended by confrontation with the Christian Gospel, Christian witness, or Christian speech and symbolism. This motivation lies behind the incessant effort to remove all symbols, representations, references, and images related to Christianity from the public square. The very existence of a large cross, placed on government property as a memorial, outside San Diego, California, has become a major issue in the courts, and now in Congress. Those pressing for the removal of the cross claim that they are offended by the fact that they are forced to see this Christian symbol from time to time.
We should note carefully that this notion of offendedness is highly emotive in character. In other words, those who now claim to be offended are generally speaking of an emotional state that has resulted from some real or perceived insult to their belief system or from contact with someone else’s belief system. In this sense, being offended does not necessarily involve any real harm but points instead to the fact that the mere presence of such an argument, image, or symbol evokes an emotional response of offendedness.
The distinguished Christian philosopher Paul Helm addresses this issue in an article published in the Summer 2006 edition of The Salisbury Review, published in Great Britain. As Professor Helm argues, “Historically, being offended has been a very serious matter. To be offended is to be caused to stumble so as to fall, to fail, to apostasize, to be brought down, to be crushed.” As evidence for this claim, Professor Helm points to the language of the King James Bible in which Jesus says to his disciples: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast in to hell” [Matthew 5:29].
Likewise, Jesus also speaks a warning against those who would “offend” the “little ones.” As Professor Helm summarizes, “So to ‘offend’ in this robust sense is to be an agent of destruction. And to be offended is to be placed in desperate straits.”
The desperate straits are no longer required in order for an individual or group to claim the emotional status of offendedness. This shift in the meaning of the word and in its cultural usage is subtle but extremely significant.
Offering a rather robust definition of this new usage, Professor Helm describes this new notion of offendedness as “that one is offended when the words and actions of another produce a feeling of hurt, or shame, or humiliation on account of what is said of oneself about one’s deepest attachments.”
Professor Helm’s definition is rather generous, offering more substantial content to this modern notion than may be present in the claims of many persons. Many persons who claim to be offended are speaking merely of the vaguest notion of emotional distaste at what another has said, done, proposed, or presented. This leads to inevitable conflict.
“People have always been upset by insensitivity and negligence, but the profile of offendedness, understood in this modern sense, is being immeasurably heightened,” suggests Professor Helm. “The right never to be offended, never to suffer feelings of hurt or shame, is being touted and promoted both by the media and by the government and interest in it is being continually excited.” Thus, “Claims to be hurt or shamed are noticed. They are likely to be rewarded.”
The very idea of civil society assumes the very real possibility that individuals may at any time be offended by another member of the community. Civilization thrives when individuals and groups seek to minimize unnecessary offendedness, while recognizing that some degree of real or perceived offendedness is the cost the society must pay for the right to enjoy the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to speak one’s mind.
Professor Helm is surely right when he argues that the “social value” of offendedness is now increasing. All that is necessary for a claim to be taken seriously is for the claim to be offered. After all, if the essence of the offendedness is an emotional state or response, how can any individual deny that a claimant has been genuinely offended? Professor Helm is right to worry that this will lead to the fracturing of society. “We all hear things we don’t like said about people and causes that we are fond of but in the changed social atmosphere we are being encouraged to give public notice if such language offends us. I am now being repeatedly told that I am entitled not to be offended. So—from now on—not offended is what I intend to be. Does this heightening of sensitivity make for social cohesion? Does not such cohesion depend rather on enduring what we don’t like, and doing so in an adult way? Does not the glue of civic peace rest on such intangibles as the ability to laugh at oneself, to take a joke about even the deepest things? And is it not a measure of the strength of a person’s religion that they tolerate the unpleasant conversation of others? Isn’t playing the offendedness card going to result in an enfeebling of the culture, the development of oversensitive and precious members of the ‘caring society’? Whatever happened to toleration?”
Given our mandate to share the Gospel and to speak openly and publicly about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, Christians must understand a particular responsibility to protect free speech and to resist this culture of offendedness that threatens to shut down all public discourse.
Of course, the right for Christians to speak publicly about Jesus Christ necessarily means that adherents of other belief systems will be equally free to present their truth claims in an equally public manner. This is simply the cost of religious liberty.
An interesting witness to this point is Salman Rushdie, the novelist who was once put under a Muslim sentence of death because he had insulted Muslim sensibilities in his novel The Satanic Verses. Mr. Rushdie presents an argument that Christians must take seriously.
“The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other’s positions,” Rushdie insists.
As the novelist continues: “People have the fundamental right to take an argument to the point where somebody is offended by what they say. It is no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with or to whose opinion you are indifferent. The defense of free speech begins at the point where people say something you can’t stand. If you can’t defend their right to say it, then you don’t believe in free speech. You only believe in free speech as long as it doesn’t get up your nose.”
As the Apostle Paul made clear in writing to the Corinthians, the preaching of the Gospel has always been considered offensive by those who reject it. When Paul spoke of the cross as “foolishness” and a “stumbling block” [1 Corinthians 1:23] he was pointing to this very reality—a reality that would lead to his own stoning, flogging, imprisonment, and execution.
At the same time, Paul did not want to offend persons on the basis of anything other than the cross of Christ and the essence of the Christian Gospel. For this reason, he would write to the Corinthians about becoming “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” [1 Corinthians 9:22].
Without doubt, many Christians manage to be offensive for reasons other than the offense of the Gospel. This is to our shame and to the injury of our Gospel witness. Nevertheless, there is no way for a faithful Christian to avoid offending those who are offended by Jesus Christ and His cross. The truth claims of Christianity, by their very particularity and exclusivity, are inherently offensive to those who would demand some other gospel.
Christians must not only contend for the preservation and protection of free speech—essential for the cause of the Gospel—we must also make certain that we do not fall into the trap of claiming offendedness for ourselves. We must not claim a right not to be offended, even as we must insist that there is no such right and that the social construction of such a right will mean the death of individual liberty, free speech, and the free exchange of ideas.
Once we begin playing the game of offendedness, there is no end to the matter. There simply is no right not to be offended, and we should be offended by the very notion that such a right could exist.
When U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped down from office in November 2004, he wrote a “Letter to the American People” which was intended, appropriately enough, given the occasion, as a statement of thanksgiving, “I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the people and institutions that made my service possible.” Ashcroft first thanks the American people, then President Bush, members of the cabinet, and colleagues in the Justice Department. Lastly, Ashcroft thanks God, adding that “it would be the height of arrogance” for him to presume that he has achieved his successes on his own.
Anyone familiar with classical culture, or Western Civilization, should recognize Ashcroft’s letter as an expression of what has traditionally been called pietas. This is a virtue which consists in the habit of tracing back blessings not merely to immediate causes but also to “people and institutions” that are regarded as more remotely responsible, including one’s ancestors, one’s fatherland, and God (or the gods). On the classical understanding, pietas is appropriately shown not merely by individuals but also by society, insofar as society, too, as a whole benefits from the provisions of ancestors or gods. A public official would almost be obliged to display the virtue, especially in a setting the very point of which was to assign proper credit, on pain of appearing “arrogant.”
TOSSING OUT PIETY
But Heather Mac Donald is bothered by Ashcroft’s remarks. Of course, first she has to distort them. What Ashcroft said is that God’s assistance is a condition of American security. What Mac Donald takes him to be asserting is the whacky view that God alone protects America: “Upon leaving office in November 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft thanked his staff for keeping the country safe since 9/11. But the real credit, he added, belonged to God. Ultimately, it was God’s solicitude for America that had prevented another attack on the homeland.” That sort of religious “triumphalism,” she says, is offensive to atheist conservatives and would prudently be avoided by conservative politicians.
But the relevant prudential question, as regards intra-conservative politics, is really this: Should conservative politicians avoid appropriate expressions of pietas because such remarks will inevitably be construed as “whacky” by a handful of conservatives who have the religious sensibility of a Voltaire? Admittedly a more serious practical question is whether they should do so because the poorly-educated media will also interpret their remarks in that manner.
If we follow Mac Donald and abjure future expressions of pietas, why not do so also for the past? If Ashcroft’s remarks were whacky, then so is Lincoln’s proclamation of a national Day of Thanksgiving. So are nearly all speeches of American leaders, in peace and in war, until 1960 or so. The phrases “under God” and “in God we trust,” clearly, are offensively triumphalistic. And even so common a practice as grace before meals becomes suspect. (“Dad, are you suggesting that a Divine Being cooked this meal?”)
Whatever this outlook is, it’s not conservative. Conservatism aims to overcome ruptures between ancient and modern, and it presumes, as against clever objections, that there is an implicit “logic” in common human practices such as giving thanks to God.
Mac Donald misconstrues the president also. She interprets the president’s references to God in connection with American foreign policy as if he were consulting soothsayers or horoscopes. She writes: “Our Republican president says that he bases ‘a lot of [his] foreign policy decisions’ on his belief in ‘the Almighty’ and in the Almighty’s ‘great gifts’ to mankind. What is one to make of such a statement?” Not that Mac Donald tries to make anything of it. She immediately launches into a discourse on the problem of evil and the difficulty of making any definite claims about God’s will as shown in particular events.
But the president was appealing to God’s will in connection with the interpretation of human nature, not particular events. What the president said was this: “I believe there’s an Almighty, and secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody’s soul, regardless of what you look like or where you live, to be free. I believe liberty is universal. I believe people want to be free. And I know that democracies do not war with each other.” This can be faulted, if at all, only because it is not strong enough. One might have preferred: “It is a self-evident truth that God exists and that He has endowed all human beings, including Iraqis and Muslims, with an innate desire for self-government and to live at peace with other nations.” But in any case what the president was asserting, clearly, is that he is conducting American foreign policy on the premise that Hobbes and cultural relativists, among others, are wrong, whereas Locke, Jefferson, and Aquinas are fundamentally right.
But Mac Donald cannot make anything of this, and, because she cannot, then, she thinks, the president should not speak in this way. Of course, if remarks such as the president’s should be avoided as we look into the future, then shouldn’t declarations such as Jefferson’s be avoided with embarrassment as we look back into the past? After all, what is one to make of such a statement as that “all men are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights”? As for conservatism, for my part I can see little that is conservative in an attitude which would bowdlerize the Declaration and Lincoln’s “maxims of democracy” for fear of offending Enlightenment philosophes.
PROVIDENCE OR CHANCE?
Mac Donald’s mockery of common religious sensibilities, in my view, is so unfeeling as to border on the inhuman. She ridicules the woman in the Pennsylvania mining town of Quecreek who put a placard in the window of her diner, “Thank you God, 9 for 9,” when all the miners were safely recovered after three days trapped underground in the famous 2002 disaster. The woman was being arbitrary and irrational, according to Mac Donald: “When 12 miners were killed in a West Virginia mine explosion in January 2006, no one posted a sign saying: ‘For God’s sake, please explain: Why 1 for 13?’” While the miners were trapped, the entire town gathered under the leadership of the eight pastors of the various churches there, and prayed and sang hymns constantly for the safety of the miners. The woman with the placard no doubt was part of this and wanted to express her conviction that the men were saved, in part, in response to prayer.
The mining families of Quecreek would need no lecture from Mac Donald on the importance of human skill and ingenuity in the rescue of those men. They know all about the high-tech bits, “superdrills,” compressed air lines, and communications cables that were necessary to save the miners. But they also are as familiar as anyone with the limits of that technology, and the way in which ingenuity in difficult circumstances depends upon happy accident in order to succeed. They know the odds, and if they say it was a “miracle” — that is, near to impossible — that, among other things, the very first bore hole struck the spot 240 feet down where the men were trapped, they know what they are talking about. And who can say that that accident was merely an accident?
To reject as nonsense the belief that a God might alter what happens in response to prayer is not a conservative attitude, as it is at odds with a near universal belief of humankind, and it would naturally alienate the person who adopted it from much of human history, including Patton’s prayers for good weather at Bastogne, or Lincoln’s national prayers during the civil war.
Mac Donald is obliged to argue that the beliefs of theists are contradictory and irrational, because otherwise her argument has no purchase. If she wanted to say that atheist conservatives should be embraced by fellow conservatives, or atheist Republicans by fellow Republicans, no one would quarrel with her. We’re all well used to coalition building, and no one is proposing even an informal religious test for inclusion in either of those groups. But she wants to claim more than this, namely, that theists should stop speaking as theists, and to give this claim any weight, she has to represent public expressions of theism as irrational.
But I wonder if it isn’t Mac Donald’s view that is irrational. I don’t mean merely that her apparent inability to construe correctly what religious people believe is already some evidence of the unreasonability of her position. Nor do I mean, what others might suspect, that ultimately it’s not possible for her to justify her own convictions concerning a rational “order” which has a “transparency to all rational minds,” if materialism and physicalism are true. I mean additionally that the demands she places upon theism are themselves irrational and that one shouldn’t reasonably expect them to be satisfiable.
On Mac Donald’s view, the existence of any evil, harm, or infirmity, which is of the sort that an earthly father would act to remedy in his child, if he could, shows that it is impossible that God exists. Imagine a Garden-of-Eden like utopia, which human beings inhabit without woe for a thousand years: if one person somewhere catches cold, then, on MacDonald’s criterion, a perfectly good God cannot exist. He has the power to prevent that cold; a human father would keep his child from catching cold if he could; and a perfectly good God would love us even more than a human father does. According to MacDonald, we should know that God does not exist by page three of the Bible, when Cain kills Abel: What human father would stand idly by while one of his sons murdered the other? And no one could ever die if God existed, since no human father would wish his child’s death.
It would be silly to undertake a discussion of the problem of evil here. There are more than enough reasons, at least, to make the dispute a close one. Free will cannot exist, truly, without implying the possibility of evil. Some goods (such as the ability to feel pleasure) necessarily carry with them the possibility of evil (such as the ability to experience pain). It seems correct that, as Socrates and Jesus taught, evil is located principally in what we do, not what happens to us. And a philosopher might hold, not only a Christian, that some aspect of us is immaterial, so that what at first looks like death, is death of the body only, whereas something else — a mind or soul — survives and has another destiny, perhaps eternal. Taken together, these considerations suggest that what is at issue is not whether the evil we see is consistent with the existence of a perfectly good God, but rather whether the “price” of the evil in the world is justified by the good that accompanies or may be brought out of it.
But it can be emphasized that, here too, MacDonald’s position on the problem of evil is not a conservative one. She thinks that the world is the sort of place that should be thought to be the creation of a “capricious, ironic, absent-minded [and] depraved” being. She must think the same, then, of human nature and human beings, which are part of this world. But the conservative outlook is profoundly different and informed by a sense of what, in a theological interpretation, is called “original sin” — that we see around us the wreck of something that originally and in intention was good; that our inclinations, then, start off well but can easily be corrupted; and that human government, accordingly, works best when it is designed with such subjects in mind, allowing scope for natural idealism and hope, but keeping in place checks against our tendencies to excess and corruption.
Far from being surprised by evil as something unaccountable, conservatism acknowledges and indeed broods over it; yet it does so with the firm conviction in an original and ultimate good, which is why it persistently looks for some way to recognize that, “as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
A Voltaire will no doubt continue to cavil. A theist will allow him that, and perhaps even smile when he insists that he is being thoroughly rational, whereas theists are entangled in nonsensical contradictions. But in just the same way as a theist will let him speak like Voltaire, if he wishes, so he should allow theists to speak, if they wish, like Jefferson or Lincoln.
— Michael Pakaluk is a professor of philosophy at Clark University. His most recent book is Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
By Chuck Colson
Do you know what the C in YMCA stands for?
You may know it stands for “Christian,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t. The YMCA has come far from its founders’ intent when it was organized in 1844 — so far that many people have forgotten its roots as a Christian organization established to disciple young men. Today, as John Alexander of the Danville, Illinois, YMCA says, “Unfortunately, people look at us and just see a swim and gym.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair exercises on a rowing machine at the Central Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in central London, during a visit to promote exercise in society, April 25, 2006. A study released by Cambridge University has shown that making small changes to your lifestyle can have a significant impact on how long you will live. REUTERS/Stephen Hird
Sadly, over the years the YMCA has redefined its original mission right out of existence. At first, the YMCA’s method of adapting itself to meet community needs looked harmless enough. They moved from what one article called “narrow evangelistic goals” to a goal of “developing the ‘whole man,’” focusing on physical and social development as well as spiritual development.
This wasn’t inherently wrong. But as YMCA staffers realized that physical development programs were becoming far more popular than Bible studies and prayer meetings, they found themselves with a choice to make. I don’t think I need to tell you how they decided.
Since it has abandoned its religious programs and focused on the physical, today’s YMCA is commonly seen as “successful” in terms of membership and revenue. But how is it successful if you fall so far short of your original goal that you end up getting rid of it entirely?
Or, as Christ would have put it, how is it successful to gain the world and lose your soul?
Thankfully, there are still those who battle for the soul of the YMCA, like my friend Dr. Jim Gills, one of America’s premier eye surgeons. Jim has given millions to fund the building of YMCAs in Florida — YMCAs that provide for faith as well as fitness. He is building one now that will have a basketball court where church services will be held on Sundays. Jim says YMCAs “aren’t just a place for people to lift weights.... They’re a place for people to go to have fulfillment.”
And at the national convention this summer, many YMCA directors and staffers spoke out about the need to “lift up the C” in “YMCA.” Some YMCAs have formed a movement for this purpose called YMCA Mission, which holds an annual “John 17:21 Conference.”
But it’s an uphill fight. At the YMCA convention, ideas like posting Bible verses on the wall or maintaining a prayer request box met with disapproval from many. Dick Blattner of the Hollywood, Florida, YMCA, complained, “I respect your religion. But when I see posters and placards on the wall that reflect Christian principles, I feel left out.... It offended me, and I don’t think it’s right for the Y.”
Only in today’s hypersensitive society could a leader in an organization with Christian in its name be offended by Christianity. But it reminds us what happens when Christians sell out our core principles and abandon our worldview for the sake of “success.” Take this as a cautionary tale and support those who are trying once again to “lift up the C” in the YMCA.
Catholic bishops met on Monday to discuss “ethical values for European unification,” refueling the debate over the “Christianization” of the EU constitution.
Following a private meeting with the Pope in August, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that any EU constitution “should refer to our Christian values.” Merkel will attempt to resurrect the terminating constitutional treaty when Berlin takes over the EU presidency in January 2007, and has made no secret of her wish to include a reference to Christian values in the text.
“I believe this treaty should be linked to Christianity and God because Christianity was decisive in the formation of Europe,” she said.
On the same day that Merkel will host the 50th birthday party for the EU in Berlin, Catholic bishops from across the EU will draw up a report on Europe’s religious heritage to be presented at their European congress in Rome next March. The anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which led to the creation of what is now the EU, will be used by EU leaders to adopt a political declaration setting out Europe’s values and ambitions – a stop-gap measure designed to reaffirm support for the EU despite the failure of the constitution.
The church leaders hope their report “will give a new impulse to developing a civic sense of Europe as a community of values,” according to a statement.
Germany is not the only country keen to see some reference to a Christian God in the EU’s constitution, but Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ireland all pushed hard for its conclusion during the first round of negotiations in 2004.
But opposition from the UK, France and Sweden kept religious statements out of the constitutional treaty text.
Instead, the constitution said that the EU drew “inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe” – a vague reference that was not considered strong enough for many Catholic countries.
And with plans still underway to allow predominantly Muslim Turkey to join the EU, it may become even more difficult to include an explicit reference to Christianity.
More Americans are active in religious groups than previously thought and many others without ties to congregations still believe in God or a higher power, according to a broad survey of faith in America released Monday.
The study also found that most traditional Christians reject the label “evangelical,” preferring to describe themselves as “Bible-believing” or “born again.”
The survey was conducted by the Baylor University Sociology Department and the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion as the first in a series on the spiritual life of Americans.
Researchers found that only 10.8 percent of Americans have no ties to a congregation, denomination or faith group. Previous surveys had put that figure at 14 percent, overlooking about 10 million people involved in some form of organized religion, the Baylor report said.
Other surveys have also overlooked millions of evangelicals, because respondents who belonged to nondenominational groups or megachurches would often report that they had no denomination and were wrongly counted as unaffiliated, the study’s authors say.
Baylor researchers found that one-third of Americans are evangelical Protestant, just under one-quarter are mainline Protestant, one-fifth are Roman Catholic and 5 percent are black Protestant. Jews compromise 2.5 percent of the population, while 5 percent of Americans belong to other faiths.
The rest, who are not involved in religious groups, are not fully secular, researchers said. More than 60 percent of the unaffiliated say they believe in God or a higher power, and nearly one-third say they pray at least occasionally. Eleven percent believe Jesus is the son of God.
Among the more religiously observant Christians, the term “evangelical” is unpopular, according to the study. Nearly 70 percent of evangelical and black Protestants say “Bible-believing” better describes their views. Nearly as many liked the term “born-again.”
Only 15 percent of all respondents called themselves “evangelical” and within that group just 2 percent said it was the best description.
The study also looked at the market for religious goods, including books and movies.
One-fifth of respondents have read either “The Purpose Driven Life” by pastor Rick Warren or the “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic novels, the survey found.
Yet, even more — 28.5 percent — had read “The Da Vinci Code,” the best-selling mystery novel that Christians condemned as an affront to their faith. Still, the study found that the book had little impact on churchgoers.
Asked whether God favored the United States, only one-fifth of respondents said they agreed. Evangelical Protestants were the most likely to agree, with 26 percent saying they think God favors the country.
Researchers also examined Americans’ conception of God and found the greatest share — about 31 percent — think of God as “authoritarian,” deeply involved in people’s lives and world events, angry and capable of punishing those who are unfaithful.
Nearly one-quarter consider God a “distant” force that set the laws of nature in motion, but is not active in the world, the study found. About the same percentage view God as “benevolent,” active in their daily lives, but less willing to condemn or punish.
And about 16 percent consider God “critical,” an observer who views the state of the world unfavorably and will mete out punishment in another life.
The study also asked respondents about paranormal beliefs such as whether houses can be haunted or whether people can communicate with the dead. The report found that these beliefs are more prevalent in Eastern states.
The survey of 1,721 respondents has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points and was conducted by the Gallup Organization between Oct. 8 and Dec. 12, 2005.
By Michael Medved
Why would a major corporation invest big money in a gratuitous insult of millions of potential customers who, according to the company’s own figures, represent a clear majority of the American public?
That’s the obvious question raised by a splashy full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times that appeared on September 24th under the attention-grabbing headline:
Along with a vaguely familiar but unmistakably menacing image of a looming, slightly askew church steeple, the layout asked: “Ready to challenge religious dogma? Read LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION by Sam Harris…The courageous new book that arms all rational Americans with powerful arguments against their opponents on the Christian right.”
At the bottom of the page, the ad features a series of statistics clearly meant to alert the reader to a growing peril and to force all “rational Americans” to protect themselves by buying the new book. “DID YOU KNOW,” the text explains, “44% of Americans think Christ will return in the next 50 years….73% of Americans believe in the existence of Hell * More than 50% of Americans have a “negative” or “highly negative” view of people who don’t believe in God * 70% think it important for presidential candidates to be ‘strongly religious.’”
This hugely expensive book promotion (such a prominently placed full page in the New York Times often costs more than $100,000) goes out of its way to assault and insult people of faith, drawing a clear dividing line between the “rational Americans” it hopes to reach and the benighted masses who believe in God, the importance of religious belief, or even the existence of hell. You might expect this sort of partisan, opinionated declaration of non-faith from some activist group like “Move On.org” or “People for the American Way” or even the American Civil Liberties Union. But the ad came from Alfred A. Knopf, one of the world’s most distinguished publishing imprints and a prominent segment of the mighty Random House empire, which also releases the work of prominent conservatives including (through its Crown Forum division) Ann Coulter, Fred Barnes and me.
Of course, one could explain their full page ad equating religion with madness as a smart, hard-headed business decision, cunningly designed to connect a new book with its atheistically-inclined audience and “Letter to a Christian Nation” is, indeed, riding high on national bestseller lists. Nevertheless, the uncompromising language employed in the text expresses such obvious contempt for religious believers as to suggest a deep-seated distaste and resentment that go well beyond commercial calculation. For instance, in advertising the explosive Ann Coulter bestseller “Godless,” Random House never placed an ad describing: “The courageous new book that arms all decent, patriotic, God-fearing Americans with powerful arguments against their opponents on the Satanic, atheist left.”
Moreover, the fanfare for the Sam Harris book (including a spirited debate on the Michael Medved show) followed similar backing by the publishing industry and major media for a seemingly unending parade of similarly themed books, including, [KH: atheist books]
· “The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right,”
· “Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America,”
· “Jesus is Not a Republican: The Religious Right’s War on America,”
· “With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America,”
· “With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House,”
· “The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us,”
· “Why the Christian Right is Wrong,”
· “Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternative Version of American History,”
· “An Outline of the Bible: Why the Religious Right Can’t Call Itself Christian,”
· “The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege,”
· “American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money,”
· “Hijacking of the Christian Church: Voices of the Religious Right,”
and many, many more.
Think of all the innocent and beautiful trees cleared from the landscape and pulped into paper to feed this raging epidemic of major book releases meant to indict and expose Christian conservatives! On the Keith Olbermann “Countdown” show on MSNBC, the shrill leftist Chris Hedges announced his own forthcoming project: “American Fascist: The Coming of a Theocratic Dictatorship in the United States.”
In order to cash in and surf to shore on this trendy publishing tidal wave, it may be time to write: “Christian Killers and Cannibals: How the Religious Right Plans to Burn Your Homes, Rape Your Women and Eat Your Babies.” This attention-getting title counts as only slightly more ridiculous and more extreme than many others proudly published by major corporations. Sam Harris, for instance, suggests that “eradicating” religion represents an urgent priority that should engage the efforts of all good people—a moral necessity comparable to the abolition of slavery. “I would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not seem good,” he writes on page 87 of “Letter to a Christian Nation.” “Still, the same could have been said about efforts to abolish slavery at the end of the eighteenth century….The truth is, some of your most cherished beliefs are as embarrassing as those that sent the last slave ship sailing to America as late as 1859 (the same year that Darwin published The Origin of Species).”
Meanwhile, the ecstatically positive reviews that greeted the alarmist documentary film “Jesus Camp” (which explicitly compares an enthusiastic Christian summer program for kids to a terrorist training ground) show the genuine horror of religious revival that pervades much of the secular establishment. In reviewing the film for the New York Times, a horrified Stephen Holden unambiguously equated young Evangelical believers to Communist mass murderers. “It wasn’t so long ago that another puritanical youth army, Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, turned the world’s most populous country inside out,” he wrote. “Nowadays, the possibility of a right-wing Christian American version of what happened in China no longer seems entirely far-fetched.”
The most surprising aspect of the current vogue for Christian-bashing hysteria involves the timing: after many years of growth and progress, religious conservatives have suffered recent reverses. The once mighty “Moral Majority,” “Christian Coalition” and other influential organizations are either disbanded or irrelevant. Conservative Christians failed spectacularly in their attempts to spare the life of the stricken Terri Schiavo, fell far short of achieving the needed Congressional majorities for a Marriage Protection Amendment, have lost a series of high profile court cases on Intelligent Design, and face daunting odds in efforts to block governmental funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research. None of the GOP frontrunners for 2008 has been embraced by the Evangelical community and most of them (McCain, Giuliani, and Romney because of his Mormon faith) are anathema to many Christian conservatives. When it comes to incidents of violence or intimidation by conservative Christians (who are regularly, shamefully compared to the Taliban or Al Qaeda), the perpetrators of such universally denounced, long-ago attacks against abortion providers are currently rotting in jail (where they belong). When secularists try to insist that all religions, not just Islam, display a dangerous violent streak, it’s deeply revealing that they indict Christianity by reaching back five hundred years (to the Spanish Inquisition) or a thousand years (to the Crusades). It’s no exaggeration to say that Muslim extremists around the world committed many, many more violent attacks in the last week than have Christian conservatives in the last ten years.
Why, then, the blatant loathing of Christian believers in so many books and columns and manifestos from non-believers on the left? None of the volumes decrying Christian influence suggest that religious families engage in violence more frequently than atheists, or unravel the fabric of society through criminality, selfishness or greed. When I’ve interviewed the authors on my radio show, they freely admit that they’d be pleased to live next door to an Evangelical, or even a Fundamentalist household, because such people are likely to be law-abiding, hard-working, neighborly, stable and considerate. This contradiction demonstrates the irrational essence of the hatred and fear of a group of citizens who do more than their share at feeing the hungry, housing the homeless, keeping families together, educating their children, serving in the military, giving to charity, maintaining their homes, nursing the sick, promoting adoption and building vibrant communities. What, exactly, do conservative Christians do that in any way harms or damages their non-Christian neighbors?
In answering that question, critics of the “Religious Right” always come back to issues of political influence and their groundless fears of some future, Orwellian, dictatorial, theocracy. These alarmists consistently ignore the actual agenda of even the most ambitious Christian conservatives who express no desire to install a new, religiously inflexible form of government, but merely wish to return to the more hospitable attitude to public expressions of faith that flourished in this nation until the 1960’s. Yes, religious activists want to roll back some of the controversial secularist “advances” of the last fifty years – denying abortion on demand and giving states greater leeway in regulating termination of pregnancy, clearly limiting marriage to one man and one woman, allowing non-sectarian prayer in schools, and permitting public displays of crosses, the ten commandments, and nativity scenes. These do not constitute radical alterations of America’s Constitutional separation of church-and-state: as recently as 1955, the nation clearly exemplified all the accommodations to faith desired by religious conservatives for the future. Did the recital of a non-sectarian prayer after the pledge of allegiance in public school classrooms some fifty years ago constitute the essence of theocratic tyranny? Did minority religions find themselves relentlessly persecuted because local service clubs installed nativity scenes in public parks?
Those who believe that religious conservatives want to impose a nightmare of intolerance and oppression on those who disagree with them must classify the nation’s heroic past, from its founding through the landmark school-prayer cases of 1961, as representative of a similar nightmare. It’s secularists and leftists who seek to alter the long-term essence of this deeply religious, majority Christian country (as Sam Harris, for one, freely acknowledges), rather than believing fanatics who want to remake the nation as an alien, unrecognizable theocracy.
Why, then, the current paranoia over the often exaggerated prominence and power of religious conservatives? In “Letter to a Christian Nation,” Sam Harris unwittingly provides the answer. Addressing his believing fellow citizens, he dramatically declaims: “If the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then there are some very grim surprises in store for nonbelievers like myself. You understand this. At least half of the American population understands this. So let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose.”
Mr. Harris, in other words, seems to worry that people assume he’s bound for damnation and an eternity of regret because in one tiny corner of his mind, at least, he fears they may be right. In the argument he describes, it’s not possible that Christian believers are “really going to lose.” If Mr. Harris is right about humanity and materialism, then there will be no sense of regret or despair if religious people fail to reach heaven after death. If we are, indeed, just spiritless chemicals and soulless matter, then we won’t be around in any sense to feel remorse over a life wasted in prayer, religious fellowship, love of family and good deeds. When he suggests that one side is “really going to lose” he can only have his own side in mind.
It’s the contemporary version of the famous “bargain” of Blaise Pascal, the French scientist and Catholic religious philosopher who died in 1662. When asked how he would react if he discovered at the end of life that his firm belief in God proved unjustified, he suggested that he would still have gained the enormous benefit of having lived as if God existed – and would feel no regret at all. If, on the other hand, non-believers like Sam Harris ultimately discover that the Almighty lives, and has been judging them all along, then, in the words of the great theologian Ricky Riccardo, “they got a whole lot of es-plainin’ to do.”
That’s why even the most benign, loving Biblically based religious ideas seem so threatening to non-believers. The more that people of faith develop confidence, sophistication and intellectual influence, the more that those on the other side nurse the dark, clammy, cold, intolerable fear that these theists just may be right about God and eternity. When polemics and newspaper ads seek to “arm” so-called “rational Americans with powerful arguments,” it’s not that they need defense against rampaging Christians with pitchforks and torches. They ultimately seek protection against creeping, subversive doubts about their own unbelief.
Richard Dawkins and his new book, The God Delusion, continue to attract media attention and reviews. Dont miss these two reviews, published in recent days.
In “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching,” literary theorist Terry Eagleton begins his review essay in The London Review of Books with this bon mot: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”
In essence, Eagleton accuses Dawkins of not knowing about which he is writing. As Eagleton observes:
What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right.
From his best paragraph:
Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief. (Where, given that he invites us at one point to question everything, is Dawkins’s own critique of science, objectivity, liberalism, atheism and the like?) Reason, to be sure, doesn’t go all the way down for believers, but it doesn’t for most sensitive, civilised non-religious types either. Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason. We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain. Only positivists think that ‘rational’ means ‘scientific’.
Jim Holt, reviewing the book for the October 22, 2006 edition of The New York Times, comes to a similar conclusion — Dawkins is playing recklessly with the very realities and concepts he purports to critique: “The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading it can feel a little like watching a Michael Moore movie. There is lots of good, hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally sloppy.”
The comparison with Michael Moore is apt. Here is the strongest section of Holt’s critique:
Despite the many flashes of brilliance in this book, Dawkins’s failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions about religion can be makes reading it an intellectually frustrating experience. As long as there are no decisive arguments for or against the existence of God, a certain number of smart people will go on believing in him, just as smart people reflexively believe in other things for which they have no knock-down philosophical arguments, like free will, or objective values, or the existence of other minds. Dawkins asserts that “the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question.” But what possible evidence could verify or falsify the God hypothesis? The doctrine that we are presided over by a loving deity has become so rounded and elastic that no earthly evil or natural disaster, it seems, can come into collision with it. Nor is it obvious what sort of event might unsettle an atheist’s conviction to the contrary. Russell, when asked about this by a Look magazine interviewer in 1953, said he might be convinced there was a God “if I heard a voice from the sky predicting all that was going to happen to me during the next 24 hours.” Short of such a miraculous occurrence, the only thing that might resolve the matter is an experience beyond the grave — what theologians used to call, rather pompously, “eschatological verification.” If the after-death options are either a beatific vision (God) or oblivion (no God), then it is poignant to think that believers will never discover that they are wrong, whereas Dawkins and fellow atheists will never discover that they are right.
A couple of weeks ago, philosopher Thomas Nagel took Dawkins to task in The New Republic. Interestingly, Nagel began his book with this sentence: “Richard Dawkins, the most prominent and accomplished scientific writer of our time, is convinced that religion is the enemy of science.” The part about Dawkins being “the most prominent and accomplished scientific writer of our time” seems a bit overblown. His most famous books are popular treatments of scientific discussions. There is no doubt that he is prominent, but as the most ‘accomplished’ part . . . well, does Nagel know something about Dawkins that the Nobel committee has overlooked?
Consider this statement by Nagel:
In this central argument of Dawkins’s book, the topic is not institutional religion or revealed religion, based on scripture, miracles, or the personal experience of God’s presence. It is what used to be called “natural religion,” or reflection on the question of the existence and nature of God using only the resources of ordinary human reasoning. This is not the source of most religious belief, but it is important nonetheless.
In other words, Dawkins misses the point that natural theology is not the main support for Christianity or belief in God. Nagel also criticizes Dawkins’ treatment of the concept of design in nature. Essentially, he claims that Dawkins is simply too reductionistic — reducing all truth to what can be “proved” by modern science:
We have more than one form of understanding. Different forms of understanding are needed for different kinds of subject matter. The great achievements of physical science do not make it capable of encompassing everything, from mathematics to ethics to the experiences of a living animal. We have no reason to dismiss moral reasoning, introspection, or conceptual analysis as ways of discovering the truth just because they are not physics.
Good stuff here — and not only for considering Richard Dawkins’ latest book. All three of these reviews demonstrate interesting approaches to taking ideas seriously.
The cross from the altar area of the chapel at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., has been removed to ensure the space is seen as a nondenominational area, explains Melissa Engimann, assistant director for Historic Campus.
“In order to make the Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific space, and to make it more welcoming to students, faculty, staff and visitors of all faiths, the cross has been removed from the altar area,” Engimann announced in an e-mail to staff.
The cross will be returned to the altar for those who wish to use it for events, services or private prayer.
The cross was in place because of the college’s former association with the Anglican Church. Though the college is now nondenominational and became publicly supported in 1906, the room will still be considered a chapel, college officials said.
2006 has been a big year for atheism. The release of several major books—all widely touted in the media—has put atheism on the front lines of current cultural conversation. Books such as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation are selling by the thousands and prompting hours of conversation on college campuses and in the media.
Now, WIRED magazine comes out with a cover story on atheism for its November 2006 issue. In “The New Atheism,” WIRED contributing editor Gary Wolf explains that this newly assertive form of atheism declares a very simple message: “No heaven. No hell. Just science.”
WIRED is itself a cultural symbol for the growing centrality of technology in our lives. On the other hand, the magazine is not simply a celebration of emerging technologies nor a catalogue of soon-to-be-released marvels. Instead, the magazine consistently offers significant intellectual content and it takes on many of the most controversial issues of the times. Considering the relatively young readership of the magazine, the decision to put atheism on the front cover indicates something of where they think the society is headed—at least in interest.
Wolf accomplishes a great deal in his article, thoughtfully introducing the work of militant atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. At the same time, he probes more deeply into the actual meaning of the New Atheism as a movement and a message.
At the beginning of his article, he gets right to the point: “The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there’s no excuse for shirking.”
In order to understand the New Atheism, Wolf traveled to visit with Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. His interviews with the three are illuminating and analytical.
He met Dawkins in Oxford, which Wolf describes as the “Jerusalem” of human reason. Accordingly, he labels Dawkins “the leading light of the New Atheism movement.”
In one sense, this is hardly news. Richards Dawkins, Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, has been the most ardent and well-publicized intellectual opponent of Christianity for decades now. He was first famous for the evolutionary argument he presented in his best-selling book, The Selfish Gene, now decades old. In his more recent work, Dawkins appears to have left his scientific career something in the background as he attempts to write as something of a philosopher and (a)theologian.
Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion, reached the best-seller list in recent weeks, and he has made media appearances on everything from the mainstream media to Comedy Central. Unlike many journalists, Wolf understands what makes Dawkins unique. It is not so much that Dawkins is attempting to convince believers that they should no longer believe in God. To the contrary, Dawkins is attempting a very different cultural and political move. He wants to make respect for belief in God socially unacceptable.
“Dawkins is perfectly aware that atheism is an ancient doctrine and that little of what he has to say is likely to change the terms of this stereotyped debate,” Wolf writes. “But he continues to go at it. His true interlocutors are not the Christians he confronts directly but the wavering nonbelievers or quasi believers among his listeners—people like me, potential New Atheists who might be inspired by his example.”
As Dawkins explains himself, “I’m quite keen on the politics of persuading people of the virtues of atheism.” The Oxford professor also understands that atheism is a political issue as well as a theological question. “The number of nonreligious people in the US is something nearer to 30 million than 20 million. That’s more than all the Jews in the world put together. I think we’re in the same position the gay movement was in a few decades ago. There was a need for people to come out. The more people who came out, the more people who had the courage to come out. I think that’s the case with atheists. They’re more numerous than anybody realizes.”
For a man who is supposedly an exemplar of the humble discipline of science, Dawkins is capable of breathtaking condescension. Consider these words: “Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists . . . . Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn’t add up. Either they’re stupid, or they’re lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they’ve got a motive! Everyone knows that an atheist can’t get elected.”
Note his argument carefully—highly intelligent people are most likely to be atheists.
The political dimensions of Dawkins’ thought become immediately apparent when he speaks of how children should be protected from parents who believe in God. “How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?,” Dawkins asks. “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society to be stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”
Wolf has successfully captured the essence of what animates Richard Dawkins. He is an evangelist for atheism.
“Evangelism is a moral imperative,” Wolf explains. “Dawkins does not merely disagree with religious myths. He disagrees with tolerating them, with cooperating in their colonization of the brains of innocent tykes.” As Dawkins sees it, belief in God is a dangerous “meme.” Dawkins is famous for arguing that memes serve as a major driving force in evolution. Memes, cultural replicators like ideas, can spread like a virus through society. Wolf understands that Dawkins claims to believe in democracy and freedom and thus accepts “that there are practical constraints on controlling the spread of bad memes.” Nevertheless, “Bad ideas foisted on children are moral wrongs. We should think harder about how to stop them.”
In a very real sense, Richard Dawkins grabs the headlines precisely because he is willing to say what many other atheists think. Indeed, he is willing to say what other atheists must think, but are unwilling to say for one political reason or another. Dawkins is spectacularly unconcerned about public relations.
On the link between evolution and atheism, for example, Dawkins is unrepentant and direct—evolutionary theory must logically lead to atheism. While other evolutionists argue before courts and in the media that this is not so, Dawkins states that he cannot worry about the public relations consequences.
As he told Wolf: “My answer is that the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The ‘sensible’ religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side.” As Wolf explains, Dawkins himself insisted that the word “sensible” should be in quotes. In other words, Dawkins seems to have less respect for theological liberalism than for those who are theologically orthodox. At least the true believers know what they truly believe.
This attack on religious moderates is what made The End of Faith, Sam Harris’ 2004 book, so interesting. Harris, whose second book, Letter to a Christian Nation, was released just weeks ago, argues that religious moderates and theological liberals function as something like “enablers” of orthodoxy and fundamentalism. As Wolf keenly observes, the New Atheists oppose agnostics and liberal believers as those who help orthodox believers build and retain a cultural powerbase. Agnostics and theological liberals may be fellow travelers with the atheists, these figures admit, but they actually serve to confuse rather than to clarify the issues at stake. On this, the New Atheists and orthodox believers are in agreement.
Sam Harris is even more apocalyptic than Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett. He argues that, unless belief in God is eradicated, civilization is likely to end in a murderous sea of religious warfare. As an alternative, Harris proposes a “religion of reason.” As he explains, “We would have realized the rational means to maximize human happiness. We may all agree that we want to have a Sabbath that we take really seriously—a lot more seriously than most religious people take it. But it would be a rational decision, and it would not be just because it’s in the Bible. We would be able to invoke the power of poetry and ritual and silent contemplation and all the variables of happiness so that we could exploit them. Call it prayer, but we would have prayer without [expletive deleted].”
Wolf helpfully offers his version of such a prayer: “that our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptation of faith.”
Harris’ self-proclaimed religion of reason bears uncanny resemblances to the features of New Age thought—something that offends many of his fellow New Atheists. Still, Harris’ books have sold by the thousands and he has transformed himself into a poster child for militant atheism. Like Dawkins, Harris sees time on his side. “At some point, there’s going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God.”
The third major figure in Wolf’s article, Daniel Dennett, teaches at Tufts University. As Wolf explains, “Among the New Atheists, Dennett holds an exalted but ambiguous place. Like Dawkins and Harris, he is an evangelizing nonbeliever.” Wolf describes Dennett as offering more humorous examples and thought experiments than Dawkins and Harris. “But like the other New Atheists, Dennett gives no quarter to believers who resist subjecting their faith to scientific evaluation. In fact, he argues that neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school. After all, he argues, ‘if you have to hoodwink—or blindfold—your children to ensure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct.’” Like Harris, Dennett believes that something like a religion of reason might be possible. But, in some contrast to Dawkins and Harris, Dennett does not see faith as something that can be intellectualized away. To the contrary, he sees belief in God to have served an evolutionary purpose. Even as he now believes that evolutionary purpose is no longer helpful, he argues that such an evolutionary feature is not likely to be eradicated quickly. Therefore, Dennett suggests replacing belief in God with something of a secular substitute.
In his wide-ranging article, Wolf considers the emergence of the New Atheism from multiple perspectives. He deals not only with Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett, but with a host of others, including some who believe in God. He understands that the New Atheists stand in contrast with the older atheism more in terms of mood and mode of public engagement. He also understands that those who attempt to rebut the New Atheism on scientific grounds can find themselves facing considerable complexity. As Wolf explains, when defenders of faith accept science as the arbiter of reality, atheists are left “with the upper hand.”
Throughout the article, Wolf also admits his own doubts. He seems to identify himself more with agnosticism than atheism, and he reveals some discomfort with the stridency of the New Atheism.
In his words: “The New Atheists have castigated fundamentalism and branded even the mildest religious liberals as enablers of a vengeful mob. Everybody who does not join them is an ally of the Taliban. But, so far, their provocation has failed to take hold. Given all the religious trauma in the world, I take this as good news. Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there’s always a chance that we could turn out to be wrong.”
The very fact that Wolf remains unconvinced by the arguments promoted by the New Atheists is itself significant. What Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett—along with the other New Atheists—really demand is that society must place itself in the hands of a new and militant atheistic priesthood. Science as defined by these new priests, would serve as the new sacrament and as the means of salvation.
What this article reveals is that those arguing that human beings need to be saved from belief in God are facing a tough sell—even in WIRED magazine.
“Can religion stand up to the progress of science?” That is the question posed by TIME magazine in its current cover article, “God vs. Science.” The article, written by David Van Biema, looks at the expanding fronts which pit scientific claims against Christian truth claims.
As the article sets the question:
Can religion stand up to the progress of science? This debate long predates Darwin, but the antireligion position is being promoted with increasing insistence by scientists angered by intelligent design and excited, perhaps intoxicated, by their disciplines’ increasing ability to map, quantify and change the nature of human experience. Brain imaging illustrates—in color!—the physical seat of the will and the passions, challenging the religious concept of a soul independent of glands and gristle. Brain chemists track imbalances that could account for the ecstatic states of visionary saints or, some suggest, of Jesus. Like Freudianism before it, the field of evolutionary psychology generates theories of altruism and even of religion that do not include God. Something called the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology speculates that ours may be but one in a cascade of universes, suddenly bettering the odds that life could have cropped up here accidentally, without divine intervention. (If the probabilities were 1 in a billion, and you’ve got 300 billion universes, why not?)
For some time, this battle was said to have been declared by the theologians. Now, the situation is quite different. As Mr. Van Biema explains, “The market seems flooded with books by scientists describing a caged death match between science and God—with science winning, or at least chipping away at faith’s underlying verities.”
The list of these book-writing, theism-opposing scientists is long and growing — including Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and a host of others. A new author to be added to that list is Marc Hauser of Harvard University, who argues in Moral Minds that our notions of right and wrong are products of evolution, not theistic belief.
From the article:
Dawkins and his army have a swarm of articulate theological opponents, of course. But the most ardent of these don’t really care very much about science, and an argument in which one party stands immovable on Scripture and the other immobile on the periodic table doesn’t get anyone very far. Most Americans occupy the middle ground: we want it all. We want to cheer on science’s strides and still humble ourselves on the Sabbath. We want access to both MRIs and miracles. We want debates about issues like stem cells without conceding that the positions are so intrinsically inimical as to make discussion fruitless. And to balance formidable standard bearers like Dawkins, we seek those who possess religious conviction but also scientific achievements to credibly argue the widespread hope that science and God are in harmony—that, indeed, science is of God.
The article also presents a dialogue of sorts between Dawkins and Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Research Project. Collins takes Dawkins to task for his scientific reductionism, while Dawkins presses his case against belief in God.
In the end, neither man gives ground in the brief exchange. The big lesson from all this is the importance of worldview commitments. The theist and the atheist (scientific or otherwise) are both basing their thoughts on a framework of ideas and presuppositions. These worldviews, correctly understood, lead to the ideas and convictions that govern talk about belief or disbelief in God. A significant change of mind on this great question will require a significant change in the fundamental worldview. That is why these debates are so intractable — and so enduring.
Eyal Press must be a brave man. I say that because he takes American liberals to task for their secularist assumptions — and he does so in The Nation, America’s venerable newsmagazine of the Left.
Press begins with a 2004 op-ed written by Garry Wills just after the election. The re-election of President Bush, he argued, represented “The Day the Enlightenment Went Out.” Similarly, Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect declared President Bush’s re-election to be “a culminating event in the political retreat of modernity, a condition of existence whose fundamental tenet was the triumph of scientific skepticism over what used to be called ‘blind’ faith.’”
Who exactly upheld this tenet Tomasky didn’t say. Certainly not the nine in ten Americans who have said they’ve never doubted the existence of God. Or the eight in ten who believe the Lord works miracles. Or the same number who are certain they will be called to answer for their sins on Judgment Day. Or the tens of millions who attend church every week—more, in a typical seven-day span, than those who turn out for all sporting events combined. These figures are drawn from the 1990 book Under God, by Garry Wills. As Wills pointed out at the time, the idea that urbanization, scientific progress and rising living standards would gradually transform America into a secular society has long appealed to journalists and intellectuals. Talk about blind faith. In reality, noted Wills, “nothing has been more stable in our history, nothing less budgeable, than religious belief and practice.”
Press addresses liberals with a bit of reality therapy. For one thing, he argues that liberals can find common cause with the religious Left and with African-American churches. But his main point is that America is not a secular nation — not in terms of the vast majority of its people.
There are, of course, millions of Americans who would rejoice if Roe were reversed, just as there are many who think the separation of church and state is a myth, that mandatory school prayer should be reinstated and that sex between two consenting adults of the same gender should be a punishable crime. It is perfectly fair for Americans who disagree with such views to say so—the louder the better. It is nevertheless a mistake to dismiss those who hold them either as victims of false consciousness or as fools, the way Sam Harris does in his slender, entertaining but misleadingly titled new book, Letter to a Christian Nation, which is actually addressed to people like himself who want to get a good laugh at the expense of those silly enough to believe in God. Harris’s unabashed disdain for all forms of religion is in some ways bracing—he has as little patience for moderate believers as for biblical literalists. And much in his letter will likely prove amusing to atheists and agnostics fed up with hearing pastors insist that only the churched are capable of viewing the world through a moral prism.
Harris belongs to a group that Timothy Garton Ash recently described as “secular fundamentalists.” He is an engaging writer, and the popularity of his book suggests that many people think it is about time the faith community received its comeuppance. But by his standard, many African-Americans who took part in the civil rights movement were also deranged. So were others who gathered in church basements during the 1980s to stop the Reagan Administration from arming death squads in Central America (among whose victims were many nuns and priests who preached liberation theology). So was William Jennings Bryan, the populist orator and born-again Christian who for several decades served as the voice the excluded in America, supporting everything from legalizing strikes to progressive taxation, and whose passion and appeal Michael Kazin convincingly demonstrates in a new biography, A Godly Hero, were inextricably related to his biblical faith. So was the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, perhaps the greatest moral agitator of the nineteenth century, whose abhorrence of slavery, according to his biographer Henry Mayer, “cannot be understood outside the context of the Christianity that was its inspiration.” “Nothing but extensive revivals of pure religion can save our country,” wrote Garrison in 1831, the year he began publishing The Liberator, a statement that might have led the secularists of his era to brand him a fanatic, which is indeed how many of his less devout contemporaries saw him. “Radical popular religion helped eradicate an evil with which socially liberal theological opinion had learned to coexist,” notes Mayer.
He concludes by warning his fellow liberals that “confining ourselves to a small sect of like-minded believers” [in secularism] is “what fundamentalism is about.” The article by Eyal Press is significant for its argument, and for the fact that it appears in The Nation.
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians on Wednesday to defend the spirit of Christmas against secular trends during his last general audience before the holiday.
He wished the several thousand pilgrims and tourists gathered in a Vatican auditorium decorated with Christmas trees a “Happy Christmas” in seven languages and told them that “false prophets continue to offer cheap salvation which ends up in deep delusions.”
“It is the duty of Christians to spread through a witness of life the truth of Christmas, which Christ brings to every man and woman of good will.”
Throughout the audience, choral groups sang Christmas carols, including “Silent Night,” a favorite in the pope’s native Germany. Shepherds from Italy’s Abruzzi mountains, in their traditional fur-trimmed costumes, played Italian carols on their bagpipes.
During his speech, Benedict also posed the question of the relevance of religion in modern society, one of his leading themes.
“Today, many consider God irrelevant. Even believers sometimes seek tempting but illusory shortcuts to happiness. And yet perhaps even because of this confusion humanity seeks a savior, and awaits the coming of Christ,” the pope said.
Although he warned against being distracted by what he called the “trappings of Christmas,” Benedict offered thanks for the 110-foot Christmas tree set up in St. Peter’s Square, and the one in his private apartment in the Vatican, both gifts from the mountains of Calabria in southern Italy.
He also encouraged the custom of setting up nativity scenes in the home.
“It is my hope that such an important element (of Christmas) not only part of our spirituality, but also of our culture and art continue to be a simple and eloquent way of remembering Christ.”
The home nativity scene is the traditional focal point of the Italian Christmas, with families working for days on elaborate settings which, along with the main figures, often include village scenes, artistic lighting and even fountains with running water.
However, according to recent news reports, the tradition is waning, with some families preferring the Christmas tree, a custom inherited from northern Europe and North America.
Workers in St. Peter’s Square are still busy setting up the Vatican’s life-sized nativity scene with 26 figures set under a caravan tent, to be unveiled on Christmas Eve, along with the lighting of the Christmas tree.
By Dinesh D’Souza
For many Western liberals—and even some conservatives—the war on terror is a clash of opposed fundamentalisms: Christian fundamentalism vs. Islamic fundamentalism. So, in this view, Christian and Muslim religious fanatics are once again fighting each other, as they have done in the past.
From this perspective, the best solution is for America to stand up for the principles of secularism and oppose both Muslim fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism. But in reality secularism is not the solution. Secularism is the problem. It is the West’s agenda of secularism that is alienating traditional Muslims and pushing them toward the radical camp.
The common understanding of the battle as one between two rival fundamentalisms is superficially supported by Bin Laden’s rhetoric declaring a religious war of civilizations. Bin Laden speaks of the world being divided into the “region of faith” and the “region of infidelity.” At times Bin Laden defines the clash as one between the Muslims and the crusaders.
But the context of Bin Laden’s arguments clearly shows that Bin Laden is not speaking of a religious war between Islam and Christianity. In the same videotaped remarks where Bin Laden posits these conflicts, he praises Christianity. In one statement Bin Laden observes that Islam respects the prophets of Judaism, Christianity and Islam “without distinguishing among them.”
In the classical Muslim understanding, there is a fundamental distinction between Jews and Christians on the one hand and polytheists and atheists on the other. According to Islam, Judaism and Christianity are incomplete but genuine revelations. As monotheists, Jews and Christians have historically been entitled to Muslim respect and even protection. In every Islamic empire, from the Umayyad to the Abbasid to the Ottoman, Jews and Christians were permitted to practice their religion and in no Muslim regime has it ever been considered legitimate to systematically kill them.
By contrast, polytheists and atheists have always been anathema to Islam. The Koran says, “Fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together” and “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them.” These passages, which Bin Laden frequently quotes, do not refer to Christians, because Christians are not considered pagans or idolaters. Rather, they refer to those, like the Beduins of ancient Arabia, who worship many gods or no god. Muslims are commanded to fight these unbelievers, especially when they threaten the House of Islam.
Muslim radicals could repudiate the entire Islamic tradition and argue that Christians and Jews are no different from atheists and deserve the same treatment. But this claim would undoubtedly alienate traditional Muslims. Sheikh Muhammad Tantawi, head of Al Azhar University, recently argued the traditional view that “Islam has never been and will never be at war with Christianity.” For Bin Laden to declare war against Chrsitianity would even divide the radical Muslim camp. The influential radical sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi has said that as Muslims, “We believe in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Our Islamic faith is not complete without them.”
Islamic radicals like Bin Laden make their case against America and the West on the grounds that these cultures have abandoned Christianity. In his May 2006 letter to President Bush, Ahmadinejad faulted America not for being Christian, but for not being Christian enough. Many years earlier, the radical theoretician Sayyid Qutb made the same point. The main reason for the West’s moral decay, Qutb argued, is that in the modern era “religious convictions are no more than a matter of antiquarian interest.”
Other Muslim radicals today echo these arguments. The influential Pakistani scholar Khurshid Ahmad, leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, argues, “Had Western culture been based on Christianity, on morality, on faith, the language and modus operandi of the contact and conflict would have been different. But that is not the case. The choice is between the divine principle and a secular materialistic culture.”
Even though Christianity has eroded, Muslim radicals contend that the ancient crusading spirit now infuses the pagan culture of the West. When Bin Laden calls America a crusader state, he means that America is on a vicious international campaign to impose its atheist system of government and its pagan values on Muslims. How? My supporting secular dictators in Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And by exporting a secular culture that undermines the traditional values of Islam.
In this way, Bin Laden argues that America is hell-bent on destroying the Muslim religion. The rallying cry of Islamic radicalism is that “Islam is under attack.” In his 1998 declaration Bin Laden called on Muslims to “launch attacks against the armies of the American devils” and to kill Americans whom he identified as the “helpers of Satan.” In a 2003 sermon, Bin Laden praised the September 11 hijackers and compared the twin towers of the World Trade Center to the idols in the Kaaba that the Prophet Muhammad destroyed in the year 630 upon his victorious return to Mecca.
Thus the doctrine that the war against terrorism is a battle of two opposed forms of religious fundamentalism is false. This is not why the Islamic radicals are fighting against America. From the perspective of Bin Laden and his allies, the war is between the Muslim-led forces of monotheism and morality against the America-led forces of atheism and immorality. Secularism, not Christian fundamentalism, is responsible for producing a blowback of Muslim rage.
By Terence Jeffrey
For Democratic Rep. Pete Stark, voting like an atheist means voting his conscience.
Last fall, the Secular Coalition for America, which describes itself as “a national lobby representing the interests of atheists, humanists, freethinkers and other nontheists,” announced a contest. (In case you are wondering, “nontheist,” according to the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times, is “the latest secularist term of art for folks ‘without a god-belief.’”) The coalition said it would award $1,000 to whoever identified the highest-ranking “nontheist” officeholder in the United States.
Someone nominated Stark. The coalition made an inquiry. Stark confessed his disbelief.
“When the Secular Coalition asked me to complete a survey on my religious beliefs, I indicated that I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being,” Stark said in a statement.
Nor did Stark try to draw a bright line between his politics and his religious convictions. He did not utter the atheist’s version of that familiar formulation often heard from self-professed God-fearing politicians who insist that their religious beliefs will not influence how they vote on the most consequential issues. He did not say: “Personally, I don’t believe in God, but ...”
He proudly declared he would push an agenda conforming to nontheistic doctrine. “I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and provisions of social services,” he said.
In reacting to Stark’s revelation, some liberal news organizations and commentators seemed to advance the notion that Stark’s atheistic views were somehow in sync with his status as a liberal Democrat representing a liberal Democratic district.
“He’s not exactly a profile in courage,” wrote columnist Ellen Goodman. “After all, Pete Stark is 75 and has represented his liberal district near San Francisco for more than 30 years. It’s unlikely that he’ll be tarred and feathered or sent packing for admitting that he’s, well, a godless politician.”
“Courage comes in many forms, and maybe responding to a questionnaire is one of them,” said a Los Angeles Times editorial. “In this case, however, Stark is hardly taking a risk; he has represented a left-leaning Bay Area district since 1973.”
Goodman and the Times may be onto something. The idea that the liberal point of view is more appealing to atheists is supported by the network exit poll of the 2004 presidential election. Ten percent of respondents in that poll answered “none” when asked their religion. Liberal Democratic candidate John Kerry beat President Bush among those voters 67 percent to 31 percent.
Kerry, of course, is not godless. He’s just good at reaching out to godless voters.
In fact, Kerry won a 100 percent rating on the Secular Coalition’s scorecard for the 109th Congress. The coalition scored only 10 Senate votes, which focused on just three issues: marriage, stem cell research and judges. They opposed a federal amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. They favored using tax dollars to kill embryos for their stem cells. And they were against a series of conservative judicial nominees, including Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito.
A senator could have voted for higher or lower taxes, a bigger or smaller welfare state, or for or against funding the Iraq War, and it would not have impacted his score with the Secular Coalition. The nontheist lobby chose its targets strategically: life, marriage and nominees who believe in judicial restraint.
On the House side, Stark was one of only eight members who earned a 100 percent rating from the Secular Coalition. The other seven were also liberal Democrats. Here, again, the coalition scored only 10 votes, which included the marriage amendment and federal funding for research that kills human embryos. There are no judicial nominations to score in the House, of course, but the coalition did oppose the Pledge Protection Act, which would have stripped federal judges of the authority to hear suits challenging the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance.
There is good news here for politicians of either party who support life, marriage and judicial restraint. The nontheist lobby thinks they are on God’s side.
[KH: What they want to say is that God is a mass murderer. God killed everyone on Earth in the Great Flood. God commanded Joshua to kill all the people in some cities the Israelites conquered. God did everything for a good reason. They can of course argue with God. Perhaps that is the defiance they want to show. Watch out how they are judged on Judgment Day.]
VICTORIA - In the Bible, Samson is a hero who used his superhuman strength to do God’s will by pulling down pillars in a Philistine temple, killing thousands and himself in an act of vengeance.
But in what’s sure to be a controversial interpretation of the story, a Victoria choir will next month present Samson as a suicide bomber.
Simon Capet, music director of the Victoria Philharmonic Choir, says he wanted to update Handel’s Samson oratorio to be relevant to today’s audiences by drawing comparisons to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
“We didn’t want to just present the work as a simple morality tale,” says Mr. Capet. “There is a social and political commentary here that’s important.”
While the music will not change, the setting of the oratorio will be 1946 Jerusalem. Mr. Capet says he chose the period to draw comparisons to the bombing of the British headquarters at the King David Hotel by the militant Zionist group Irgun in that year. Menachem Begin, who ordered the attack, would later become Israel’s prime minister and win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. Capet says presenting Samson as a terrorist is not meant to offend anyone or point the finger at one group, but to challenge our notions of what a terrorist is.
“Is there any difference between pulling down a pillar or blowing a bomb?” asks Mr. Capet.
“Samson killed thousands of people. To show him in the traditional mythological sense does a disservice,” Mr. Capet says.
The choir would not be the first to drawing comparisons between Samson and terrorism.
“There’s a large focus on this right now, with Israel being presented as the Samson figure,” says Andrew Rippin, dean of humanities at the University of Victoria and a specialist in Islamic studies. American journalist Seymour Hersh coined the term “the Samson option” in his book about Israel’s development of a nuclear arsenal.
Shadia Drury, a philosophy professor and Canada Research Chair for Social Justice, recently compared Samson to World Trade Center bomber Mohammed Atta in a talk at UVic. In her book, Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics and the Western Psyche, she argues that terrorism is a biblical problem.
“The concept of a collective guilt is a flawed morality,” she says. “The idea that ‘We’re on the side of God and everyone else is evil’ has and always will be disastrous.”
Ms. Drury says she thinks the choir’s modern interpretation of Samson — scheduled to run April 5, 7 and 8—is heroic.
But local Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein says comparing Samson and the Irgun bombing will offend Jews and Israelis.
“It’s an inappropriate comparison that promotes a shallow understanding of history,” says Rabbi Marmorstein. “Israelis never supported Irgun or that kind of terrorism. They weren’t heroes ... and Begin went into politics legitimately decades later. He wasn’t some crazy terrorist.”
One man who is already uneasy about the performance is Samson himself, played by Vancouver Island tenor Ken Lavigne.
“I’m really struggling with this,” says Mr. Lavigne, 33. “I can’t help but feel that a number of people will not enjoy this rejigging of a biblical hero.”
Mr. Lavigne says he has warmed up to the idea of putting on an Irgun uniform and wearing a bomb-belt to sing the emotionally charged part since discussing it with Mr. Capet.
“Simon wants to get people talking about music and its relevance today,” Mr. Lavigne says. “In the end I’ve had to accept that whoever I thought Samson was, what he committed was an act of mass murder.”
BOSTON (AP) - Atheists are under attack these days for being too militant, for not just disbelieving in religious faith but for trying to eradicate it. And who’s leveling these accusations? Other atheists, it turns out.
Among the millions of Americans who don’t believe God exists, there’s a split between people such as Greg Epstein, who holds the partially endowed post of humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and so-called “New Atheists.”
Epstein and other humanists feel their movement is on the verge of explosive growth, but are concerned it will be dragged down by what they see as the militancy of New Atheism.
The most pre-eminent New Atheists include best-selling authors Richard Dawkins, who has called the God of the Old Testament “a psychotic delinquent,” and Sam Harris, who foresees global catastrophe unless faith is renounced. They say religious belief is so harmful it must be defeated and replaced by science and reason.
Epstein calls them “atheist fundamentalists.” He sees them as rigid in their dogma, and as intolerant as some of the faith leaders with whom atheists share the most obvious differences.
Next month, as Harvard celebrates the 30th anniversary of its humanist chaplaincy — part of the school’s chaplaincy corps — Epstein will use the occasion to provide a counterpoint to the New Atheists.
“Humanism is not about erasing religion,” he said. “It’s an embracing philosophy.”
In general, humanism rejects supernaturalism, while stressing principles such as dignity of the individual, equality and social justice. If there’s no God to help humanity, it holds, people better do the work.
The celebration of a “New Humanism” will emphasize inclusion and diversity within the movement, and will include Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist E.O. Wilson, a humanist who has made well-chronicled efforts to team with evangelical Christians to fight global warming.
Part of the New Humanism, Wilson said, is “an invitation to a common search for morally based action in areas agreement can be reached in.”
The tone of the New Atheists will only alienate important faith groups whose help is needed to solve the world’s problems, Wilson said.
“I would suggest possibly that while there is use in the critiques by Dawkins and Harris, that they’ve overdone it,” he said.
Harris, author of “Letter to a Christian Nation,” sees the disagreement as overblown. He thinks there’s room for multiple arguments in the debate between scientific rationalism and religious dogmatism. “I don’t think everyone needs to take as uncompromising a stance as I have against faith,” he said.
But, he added, an intellectual intolerance of people who strongly believe things on bad evidence is just “basic human sanity.”
“We do not jail people for being stupid, but we do stop listening to them after a while,” he said in e-mailed comments.
Harris also rejected the term “atheist fundamentalist,” calling it “a silly play upon words.” He noted that, when it comes to the ancient Greek gods, everyone is an atheist and no one is asked to justify that to pagans who want to believe in Zeus.
“Likewise with the God of Abraham,” he said. “There is nothing ‘fundamentalist’ about finding the claims of religious demagogues implausible.”
Some of the participants in Harvard’s celebration of its humanist chaplaincy have no problem with the New Atheists’ tone.
Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker said the forcefulness of their criticism is standard in scientific and political debate, and “far milder than what we accept in book and movie reviews.”
“It’s only the sense that religion deserves special respect — the exact taboo that Dawkins and Harris are arguing against — that people feel that those guys are being meanies when applying ordinary standards of evaluation to religion,” Pinker said in e-mailed comments.
Dawkins did not respond to requests for comment. He has questioned whether teaching children they could go to hell is worse in the long term than sexually abusing them, and compares the evidence of God to evidence for unicorns, fairies and a “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His attempt to win converts is clear in “The God Delusion,” when he writes of his hope that “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”
A 2006 Baylor University survey estimates about 15 million atheists in the United States.
Not all nonbelievers identify as humanists or atheists, with some calling themselves agnostics, freethinkers or skeptics. But humanists see the potential for unifying the groups under their banner, creating a large, powerful minority that can’t be ignored or disdained by mainstream political and social thinkers.
Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition of America, sees a growing public acceptance of people who don’t believe in God, pointing to California U.S. Rep. Pete Stark’s statement this month that he doesn’t believe in a supreme being. Stark is the first congressman to acknowledge being an atheist.
As more prominent people such as Stark publicly acknowledge they don’t believe in God, “I think it will make it more palatable,” Brown said.
But Epstein worries the attacks on religion by the New Atheists will keep converts away.
“The philosophy of the future is not going to be one that tries to erase its enemies,” he said. “The future is going to be people coming together from what motivates them.”
By Michael Novak
One of the writers whose courage and polemical force I highly admire is Christopher Hitchens. He gives frequent proof of a passionate honesty, which sometimes has obliged him to criticize ideological soul mates when he thinks they are wrong on some important matter. Many of our colleagues today pretend publicly to have no enemies on the Left out of a panicky fear that they might “help the wrong people” on the evil Right. Though always a man of the Left, Hitchens will have none of that.
Another thing: He does his homework and he thinks clearly. If you go to debate him, you had better think things through rather carefully and well, for his is a well-stocked, quick, and merciless mind. Withal, he is a brave and good man — and an excellent man (so others tell me) to have a drink with.
Normally, too, Hitchens is a fair man in debate — although employing often enough those wicked and withering rhetorical ploys that the British often display in verbal jousting. Agent Provocateur is Hitchens’s chosen pose. But this time it is a bit disappointing to find so much hostility and so many — unusually many — intellectual missteps in his latest tirade (not his first) against religion, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
For something peculiar happens to Hitchens when he wrestles against God with murderous intent. Hitchens always loses (and may secretly suspect that). Preposterous as this seems, one senses he may fear that one day he will wake up and see it all plainly, right before his eyes. Otherwise, why year after year keep striking another stake in the heart of God?
Like many anti-religious polemicists, Hitchens in his new book suggests that believers in God believe in a Designer, whereas experience shows that this world is of inferior design. Indeed, he writes:
Thomas Jefferson in old age was fond of the analogy of the timepiece in his own case, and would write to friends who inquired after his health that the odd spring was breaking and the occasional wheel wearing out. This of course raises the uncomfortable (for believers) idea of the built-in fault that no repairman can fix. Should this be counted as part of the “design” as well? (As usual, those who take the credit for the one will fall silent and start shuffling when it comes to the other side of the ledger).
Hitchens seems to hold that believers think of the Creator as a simple-minded Geometer, a Rationalist Extraordinaire, a two-times-two-equals-four kind of god, a flawless Watchmaker, a bit of a Goody-goody, a cosmic Boy Scout. If that is so — Hitchens leaps for your throat — then evidence is overwhelming that this Creator botched things up, like a rank amateur. In short, evidence all around us shows there is no such god.
Let’s be honest. The God who made this world is certainly no Rationalist, Utopian, or Perfectionist. We can see for ourselves that most acorns fall without ever generating a single oak tree. Some species die away — perhaps as many as 90% of all that have ever lived upon this earth have already perished. Infants are stillborn, others born deformed. Children are orphaned, and little girls, terrified, sob at night in their beds. Human sex seems almost a cosmic trick played upon us, a joke, a game that angels laugh at. ‘Tis a most imperfect world that this Designer has designed.
But suppose God is not like the Hitchens model. Suppose that God is not a Rationalist, a Logician, a straight-line Geometer-of-the-skies. Suppose that the Creator God deliberately made a world of probabilities and failures, of waste and profusion, of suffering and hardships and frustrations. Suppose that He loved the idea of an unformed history, slowly developing (almost like an organism), nearly everything good won the hard way. Suppose that He loved chance, crossing chains of probabilities, freakish accidents, wild and unnecessary profusion, contingencies of every sort — to keep even angels guessing. Suppose He desired a world of indetermination, with all its blooming, buzzing confusion, so that within it freedom could spread out its wings, experiment, and find its own way. [KH: dangerous suppositions, echoes of emerging church and open theology]
Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings...
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
— Pied Beauty, Gerard Manley Hopkins
At one point, Hitchens proposes a thought experiment that goes like this: Practically everything in civilization is wiped out. The human race has to start all over again. “If we lost all our hard-won knowledge and all our archives, and all our ethics and all our morals...and had to reconstruct everything essential from scratch, it is difficult to imagine at what point we would need to remind or reassure ourselves that Jesus was born of a virgin.”
But is this actually the way things have worked out? If there were no Annunciation of the angel to Mary of Nazareth, if there were no birth of the Son of God in a decrepit stable, if there were no passion, death, and resurrection — or even if all memory and record of such events had been erased — would the world have lost anything of permanent human value? There are, in fact, a number of points of great significance for human conscience and politics, and even science, that the human race might never have come to. As Jürgen Habermas points out, nearly all the basic ideals of the Enlightenment – such as fraternity, not to say, liberty and equality — derive from Christianity, not from Greece or Rome.
Set aside any religious significance to the birth and death of Jesus Christ. Set aside any hint of redemption and eternal life. Consider only its implications for politics and science. Only in the Jewish and Christian conception of God is God “Spirit and Truth,” and more concerned about what goes on in individual conscience than in outward gesture. From this conception derives the argument for liberty of conscience in George Mason, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson.
In the moderating habits that Judaism and Christianity partly learned from pagan ethical systems, and considerably deepened with their own resources, Alfred North Whitehead saw the roots of the asceticism, self-denial, discipline, long years of study, dedication to honesty, and limpid transparency which are so necessary for sustained scientific work. Here he also found the conviction that everything in the universe, being the fruit of a single intelligence, is in principle understandable and to be worth all the arduous efforts to try to grasp it. Here other scholars (Boorstin, Landes) have found the conviction that it is the human vocation, in the image of the Creator, to be creative, inventive, and to help complete the evolving work of creation.
In our generation, Habermas has called for a greater tolerance on the part of atheists toward religious believers, and a kind of mutual human respect, which will demand from atheists an attempt to state honestly all their debts to the religious civilization of the West — the womb in which modern science gestated and received its dynamism.
In a more limited sense, of course, Hitchens is correct. If all we had to depend upon were science, empiricism, and our own inquiring minds, we might still have discovered the existence of God (but not the God of Judaism and Christianity) — as did the ancient Greeks and Romans. Reason might well have shown us — did, in fact, show us — that there is a living intelligence deep down in everything on earth and in the skies above. All earthly things are alive with reasons, connections, and also with oddities yet to become better understood, puzzles yet to be solved. We learn by experiment that if we apply our minds to trying to understand how things truly are, how they work, how they are best used, there seems always to be some intelligible light within things that yields up precious satisfactions to the hungry mind. Everything that is seems understandable — in principle, if not just yet. This is the outer limit to his sense of the divine that Einstein confesses (as quoted by Hitchens):
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
Engaged in polemics, atheists like to do two things, which certainly Hitchens does. The first is to make fun of believers on every matter possible, even when that requires outrageous misstatements of fact and employs such clumsy logic as they would mock in others. The second is to generate as many incoherencies in the faith of believers as their fertile minds can make up. Hitchens is in our time one of the great masters of mockery and satire. He out-pains Tom Paine, the same Thomas Paine, mocker of the Bible-toting, who endured imprisonment in France after 1789, forewarning the Jacobins that their atheism would cut the ground out from under their declared human rights. In moral heroism, standing up against angry mobs, Hitchens is often Paine’s equal, just as, like Paine, Hitchens seems quite annoyed by Him in Whom he does not believe.
One of the favorite objects of Hitchens’s mockery is the Jewish and Christian belief in the omnipotence and omniscience of God, proud fortresses that once protected the claim that God is good against the maelstrom of evils that overcome the just and the unjust alike. Hitchens puts in mind Richard Dawkins, who quotes one rather amusing quatrain debunking omnipotence and omniscience:
Can omniscient God, who
Knows the future, find
The omnipotence to
Change His future mind?
A cute little quatrain. But it does have the defect of putting God in time as though He were just another schmuck like the rest of us. In the classic formulation, “omniscience” and “omnipotence” characterize a being outside of time, unchanging, unchanged. Thus, he has no “future” mind, but only a present mind, in which all Time is present to Him as if in simultaneity. The god presented us by atheists seems awfully anthropomorphic and fundamentalist. The eternalness of the mind and will of God, in the Judeo-Christian view, does not forbid his creation from taking a wild, unpredictable, highly contingent adventure through history. It holds that the Creator’s relation to his creation is not at all what Dawkins and Hitchens project.
For the atheist — for Hitchens — though, does the problem of goodness create an intellectual problem? If everything is by chance and merely relative, why is it natural for so many to be good — if not all the time, at least so often as to be quite striking? Put another way: Isn’t it unlikely that random chance alone has arranged the world so that many human qualities — the very ones that Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and Jews and Christians find good on other grounds — should also work better for the survival of the human race? It is at least mildly interesting that philosophy, revealed religion, and random natural selection lead to many of the same moral principles. Perhaps that explains why some atheists are so nobly good (the “secular saints” of Albert Camus), and why some insist on being credited (by believers) with being good. Some do seem to hate it when believers borrow that awful line from Dostoevsky: “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”
On the other hand, Judaism and Christianity do add insights and virtues that derive from other forms of intelligence than narrow reason. It was against common sense and practical reason for the Americans in 1776, without an army and without a navy, to make war on the greatest naval and military power in the world. But their Declaration did fit with the faith that the reason God created the world was to offer his friendship to every woman and every man; and as Thomas Jefferson put it, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” (Or in the words of William Penn: If God gave us friendship, then also freedom.) Our Founders concluded that even when they prayed to the same Providence as the British, those who fight for freedom are better in tune with God’s ultimate purposes than those who, though apparently stronger, fight to repress it.
Hitchens himself is a public protagonist of compassion and solidarity. But these come, don’t they, from the same Creator to whom Judaism and Christianity, as well as the Declaration of Independence, point.
Hitchens, in sum, sets for himself moral limits that in his view come from reason. And the standards Hitchens sets are normally quite high. Except when, contrary to the American founding, he is venting his bile against God, who, he says, does not exist. Still, even for believers Hitchens is useful. One can take the rake of his arguments to pull out dead grass in one’s own sloppy thinking about God.
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Watergate figure Chuck Colson warned a gathering of Southern Baptist pastors Sunday night against what he described as two dire threats: the deadly marriage of Islam and fascism and a new, militant atheism growing in popularity in the West.
Colson, a former Nixon “hatchet man” who became a born-again Christian and founded an evangelical ministry to prisoners, called on Christians to do a better job of explaining their religion’s worldview.
Colson, 75, spoke at a conference that precedes the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, which begins here Tuesday.
At one point, Colson said “Islam is a vicious, evil ... “ and then before finishing the sentence, said, “Islamo-fascism is evil incarnate.”
“Islamists,” Colson said, “are very different. We will die for what we believe. They will kill for what they believe.”
“The problem isn’t terrorism,” Colson said. “The problem is an ideology that is mixed with fascism ... We are in a long war, a long struggle.”
Comments about Islam have generated controversy at past Southern Baptist meetings. In 2002, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, the Rev. Jerry Vines, called Muhammad, the Muslim prophet, a “demon-possessed pedophile.”
The second threat, Colson said, was evident in the popularity of several best-selling books espousing atheism by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others.
“This is a virulent strain of atheism which seeks to destroy our belief system,” Colson said.
Colson also dismissed a burgeoning movement known as “the emergent church” — popular among younger Baptists and other evangelicals — as “abandoning the search for truth” in favor of “conversations in coffee shops.” He instead pointed to the success of booming Third World Churches, which Colson said adhere to “pure orthodox truth.”
Colson, White House counsel for President Nixon, pleaded no contest to obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal. He started Prison Fellowship in 1976.
Southern Baptists form the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, with 16.3 million members.
By Dinesh D’Souza
Leading atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are convinced they have refuted the traditional idea that the chains of causation in the universe imply the existence of a creator. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins concedes that the universe is fantastically complex and gives every indication of design. Even so, Dawkins notes that we cannot infer a creator because such a creator would have to be at least as complex as the universe that he has supposedly designed. Therefore Dawkins concludes that “the theist’s answer has utterly failed” because it has only pushed the problem back by one level. “If God created the universe,” Sam Harris writes in his book Letter to a Christian Nation, “what created God?”
Both Dawkins and Harris are very proud of this argument. Harris triumphantly notes that to say the universe must have been created by God “poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress.” Why, in other words, does the chain of causation have to stop with God? Why can’t it go on forever? Harris argues that the Christian answer simply won’t do because “to say that God by definition is uncreated simply begs the question.” Dawkins haughtily concludes that “I see no alternative but to dismiss” the theistic argument. These debunkers of religion think they have, with scientific precision, exposed a thousand years of metaphysical reasoning as irrational. Take that, Aquinas!
In my forthcoming book What’s So Great About Christianity, out from Regnery in October, I take on the arguments of the atheists. Here let’s revisit the traditional Christian argument for a creator in the form that Aquinas presented it. Aquinas begins with two principles that are today at the heart of all scientific reasoning. He argues that every effect requires a cause, and that nothing in the world is the cause of its own existence.
Whenever you encounter A, it has to be caused by some other B. But then B has to be accounted for, and let us say it is caused by C. This tracing of causes, Aquinas says, cannot continue indefinitely, because if it did then nothing would have come into existence. Therefore there must be an original cause that is responsible for the chain of causation in the first place. To this first cause he gives the name God.
Let me clarify Aquinas’ argument with an example which I borrow from historian Thomas Woods. Imagine yourself going to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver’s license. Upon arrival at the license counter you are asked to take a number before taking your test. Just as you are about to take the number, you are told that you must go to a different counter and take a number there. And when you reach that counter, you are informed that you must first take another number. Suppose further that every time you attempt to take a number, you discover that there is a prior number that you must take before you can take the next number. At this point you would be extremely exasperated at what seems to be an unending process.
Now suppose that, just as you are ready to lose your composure, you see a man walking out of the DMV with his new license. You are extremely relieved, because you know instantly that the series of numbers must not in fact go on indefinitely. If the series were infinite, then no one would ever be able to reach the counter to take the test and get a license. So the fact that this fellow has done so proves that the series cannot be infinite.
We are in a better position at this juncture to see Aquinas’ point. Given that nothing in the universe is the cause of its own existence, the universe cannot be explained by an infinite regress of causation. If there were infinite regress then the series would not have gotten started in the first place. The universe is here, just like the fellow who has gotten his driver’s license. And just as there had to be a first number at the DMV that got the sequence going, so too there must be a first cause for the universe that accounts for the chain of causation that we see everywhere in the world. We may not be able to say much about what this first cause is like, but we have established the need for it and the existence of it. Without a first cause, none of its effects—including the world, including us—would be here.
The real force of Aquinas’ argument is not that every series must have a temporal beginning but that every series, in order to have being or existence, must depend on something outside the series. It is no rebuttal to say that since everything must have a cause, therefore God Himself requires a cause. Aquinas’ argument does not use the premise that everything needs a cause. Everything that exists in the universe needs a cause. God is not part of the series and therefore the rules of the series, including the rules of causation, do not apply to Him.
Aquinas can rest easy. It seems evident that Dawkins and Harris have not answered the theistic argument. Yet amusingly they think they have. What’s up with these self-styled paragons of reason? Dawkins and Harris are experts in laboratory science. One is a zoologist, the other a student of neuroscience. Here is the classic case of people who are experts in one field trying to issue authoritative pronouncements in another. When this happens the results are not hard to predict.
The time for polite debate is over. Militant, atheist writers are making an all-out assault on religious faith and reaching the top of the best-seller list, a sign of widespread resentment over the influence of religion in the world among nonbelievers.
Christopher Hitchens’ book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” has sold briskly ever since it was published last month, and his debates with clergy are drawing crowds at every stop.
Sam Harris was a little-known graduate student until he wrote the phenomenally successful “The End of Faith” and its follow-up, “Letter to a Christian Nation.” Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” struck similar themes — and sold.
“There is something like a change in the Zeitgeist,” Hitchens said, noting that sales of his latest book far outnumber those for his earlier work that had challenged faith. “There are a lot of people, in this country in particular, who are fed up with endless lectures by bogus clerics and endless bullying.”
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., said the books’ success reflect a new vehemence in the atheist critique.
“I don’t believe in conspiracy theories,” Mouw said, “but it’s almost like they all had a meeting and said, ‘Let’s counterattack.’”
The war metaphor is apt. The writers see themselves in a battle for reason in a world crippled by superstition. In their view, Muslim extremists, Jewish settlers and Christian right activists are from the same mold, using fairy tales posing as divine scripture to justify their lust for power. Bad behavior in the name of religion is behind some of the most dangerous global conflicts and the terrorist attacks in the U.S., London and Madrid, the atheists say.
As Hitchens puts it: “Religion kills.”
The Rev. Douglas Wilson, senior fellow in theology at New Saint Andrews College, a Christian school in Moscow, Idaho, sees the books as a sign of secular panic. He says nonbelievers are finally realizing that, contrary to what they were taught in college, faith is not dead.
Signs of believers’ political and cultural might abound.
Religious challenges to teaching evolution are still having an impact, 80 years after the infamous Scopes “Monkey” trial. The dramatic growth in homeschooling and private Christian schools is raising questions about the future of public education. Religious leaders have succeeded in putting some limits on stem-cell research.
And the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a national ban on a procedure critics call “partial-birth abortion” — the first federal curbs on an abortion procedure in a generation — came after decades of religious lobbying for conservative justices.
“It sort of dawned on the secular establishment that they might lose here,” said Wilson, who is debating Hitchens on christianitytoday.com and has written the book “Letter from a Christian Citizen” in response to Harris. “All of this is happening precisely because there’s a significant force that they have to deal with.”
Indeed, believers far outnumber nonbelievers in America. In an 2005 AP-Ipsos poll on religion, only 2 percent of U.S. respondents said they did not believe in God. Other surveys concluded that 14 percent of Americans consider themselves secular, a term that can include believers who say they have no religion.
Some say liberal outrage over the policies of President Bush is partly fueling sales, even though Hitchens famously supported the invasion of Iraq.
To those Americans, the nation’s born-again president is the No. 1 representative of the religious right activists who helped put him in office. Critics see Bush’s Christian faith behind some of his worst decisions and his stubborn defense of the war in Iraq.
“There is this general sense that evangelicals have really gained a lot of power in the United States and the Bush administration seems to represent that in some significant ways,” said Christian Smith, a sociologist of religion at the University of Notre Dame. “A certain group of people sees it that way and that’s really disturbing.”
Mouw said conservative Christians are partly to blame for the backlash. The rhetoric of some evangelical leaders has been so strident, they have invited the rebuke, the seminary president said.
“We have done a terrible job of presenting our perspective as a plausible world view that has implications for public life and for education, presenting that in a way that is sensitive to the concerns of people who may disagree,” he said. “Whatever may be wrong with Christopher Hitchens attacks on religious leaders, we have certainly already matched it in our attacks.”
Given the popularity of the anti-religion books so far, publishers are expected to roll out even more in the future. Lynn Garrett, senior religion editor for Publishers Weekly, says religion has been one of the fastest-growing categories in publishing in the last 15 years, and the rise of books by atheists is “the flip-side of that.”
“It was just the time,” she said, “for the atheists to take the gloves off.”
A new survey revealed that evangelical Christians are less concerned about poverty than the average American, while atheists are the least likely group to participate in activities to combat poverty.
Overall, Americans are concerned about poverty with three out of four adults (72 percent) considering poverty to be one of the most serious social problems facing the United States today, according to a national survey by The Barna Group. The figure includes the one out of every five adults (21 percent) who think poverty is the single, most serious social problem of all.
Yet evangelical Christians are only half as likely (11 percent) as the rest of American adults to rank poverty as the nation’s greatest social problem.
Moreover, born-again Christians were somewhat more likely than non-Christians to donate money to organizations addressing global poverty and to give food directly to poor people, but otherwise the two groups showed few differences.
“Given the extensive comments in the Bible regarding the importance of taking care of the poor, we expected to see a larger distinction between the responses of Christians and non-Christians,” commented George Barna, who directed the study.
However, atheists and agnostics were the group of people least likely to do anything in response to poverty, according to the survey. This segment of the population was the least likely to participate in eight of the nine specific responses to poverty listed in the survey.
Although most Americans are concerned about poverty, they carry the misperception that poverty is much more pervasive than in actuality. Participant’s average estimate of the percentage of people in the United States living in poverty was 30 percent when federal statistics estimate the current poverty level to be about 13 percent of the U.S. population.
As explanation, the survey found perception of the country’s poverty level reflected the pollster’s personal economic and educational level. The survey discovered that the lower a person’s income or education level, the more likely the person will estimate a higher poverty rate.
People living in households earning less than $35,000 annually, and people who had a high school education or less estimated the national poverty rate to be 40 percent. Americans who come from households earning under $30,000 annually and with no college education estimated poverty to be the condition of 50 percent of all Americans.
In contrast, people from households earning over $60,000 and those with a college degree estimated the poverty rate to be 20 percent.
“Although many public officials seem to assume that Americans are not sufficiently engaged in efforts to ameliorate or eliminate poverty, the data show a different story,” Barna said.
The researcher noted that most people consider poverty to be a serious issue, are counting on the government to resolve poverty in society, and have taken various actions to alleviate the problem.
“However, the study also shows that Americans are poorly informed about America’s poverty. They radically overestimate how many people the government identifies as poor, and they believe things have become much worse over the last quarter-century, when in fact the incidence of poverty has remained about the same,” Barna commented.
Two out of every three adults (66 percent) believe the percentage of people living in poverty today is higher than it was 25 years ago. In reality, the current national poverty rate (13 percent) fits in the past 40 year’s range of 12-15 percent.
The Barna report is based on a nationwide telephone survey conducted on 1,003 adults age 18 and older in January 2007.
Churches are producing atheists by not answering the questions of young people and explaining why they believe in the Bible, said a Christian apologist who works with young adults.
Anthony Horvath, who was formerly an atheist himself after years of Christian education, pointed out that renowned atheists such as Richard Dawkins were raised in the Church but have become some of the fiercest attackers of God.
He further noted, “Books like Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ do not become best sellers in a society that understands what Christianity is all about.”
Horvath, who has taught religion to middle school and high school students, explained that some of the recurring questions young adults struggle with but churches often fail to address include the formation and development of the Bible, the presence of evil and suffering in the world, and the question of inspiration and inerrancy.
“In large part, it happens when the church leadership is completely unaware that their members – and not necessarily just the young members – have questions at all,” explained Horvath to The Christian Post. “And [they] continue merrily along thinking that to retain the youth they just need to be entertained.”
Young people question whether they should trust the Bible since it “is so old,” and are not satisfied with the simple answer that they should trust it because God wrote it. Horvath explains that though they understand that to be the Christian position, they want to know how they can be sure of that.
Furthermore, the younger generation continues to wrestle with the age-old question of why, if God is good, then there is evil and suffering in the world.
“The evidence – which they can see with their own eyes on TV and in the newspaper – is that God is not good,” said Horvath. “It is only a matter of time before a young person begins to encounter pain and suffering in their own lives and has to grapple with the issue personally.”
He added that these youth will be less likely to trust what the Church says as they continue to be fed easy answers which do not really explain why.
As a solution, Horvath recommends apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith. He points to 1 Peter 3:15 which teaches believers to be ready to give the reasons for what they believe.
“I am talking about apologetics at a much broader scale then normally understood,” said Horvath. “It should not be left to professors or specialists, such as C.S. Lewis. It needs to be incorporated into everything we do as the Church from cradle to grave.”
He called for believers to not only be able to say that Jesus rose from the dead as church dogma and doctrine, but to be able to explain why they believe this.
Horvath maintains an online discussion forum on Christianity and welcomes non-Christians to openly vent their opposition to the faith for discourse.
Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” and perhaps one of the best known atheists of our time, is calling on all his fellow atheists to “come out of the closet” and let their voices be heard.
“As far as subjective impressions allow and in the admitted absence of rigorous data, I am persuaded that the religiosity of America is greatly exaggerated,” states the Oxford University professor in his introduction to the recently launched “Out Campaign.” “Our choir is a lot larger than many people realise.”
In a 2005 AP-Ipsos poll on religion, only 2 percent of Americans who responded said they did not believe in God, but Dawkins believes that is only because much of his “choir” remains “in the closet.”
“Religious people still outnumber atheists,” he acknowledges in his statement, “but not by the margin they hoped and we feared.”
Through his campaign, Dawkins is urging atheists to lift up their voices against the “intrusion of religion in our schools and politics” and to express how tired they are of being “bullied by those who would force their own religious agenda down the throats of our children and our respective governments.”
“We need to KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies,” the campaign states.
As prominent evangelical leader Chuck Colson noted in a recent commentary, “Most traditional atheists simply had their own belief system, and if we (Christians) wanted our belief system that was okay.”
Today’s atheists, however, are not just dismissing religion or denying the existence of God; some are making militant efforts to spread their godless message, as if they were given the charge to go and make unbelievers of all nations, immersing them with doubt, realism, and antagonism (the far-from-great commission).
“They’re like the communists who feared religion more than anything else because it was a competing truth claim,” Colson stated.
The Associated Press this year described the all-out assault on religious faith by atheist authors like Christopher Hitchens, who are reaching the top of the best-seller list, as “a sign of widespread resentment over the influence of religion in the world among nonbelievers.”
And Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said the success of books such as Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” or Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith” reflect a new vehemence in the atheist critique.
“I don’t believe in conspiracy theories,” Mouw said, according to AP, “but it’s almost like they all had a meeting and said, ‘Let’s counterattack.’”
Regardless of whether or not the current atheist movement is the result of some “conspiracy” or whatnot, and despite how small the movement may be, believers need to be challenged by it.
Going out and making disciples of all nations as Jesus commanded is already a large task as it is, but when you’re up against a group of individuals – again, as small as they may be – that is trying to undo what has been done, spreading faith in God could for some come to resemble a game of Reversi.
Furthermore, as former atheist Anthony Horvath has pointed out, many churches are not doing enough to counter the atheist’s message despite the Truth that they possess. Horvath, who has taught religion to middle school and high school students, also claims that some churches are actually producing atheists by not answering the questions of young people and explaining why they believe in the Bible.
“Books like Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ do not become best sellers in a society that understands what Christianity is all about,” he said.
Christians need to see such atheist developments as a wake-up call and rise to the challenge posed by militant atheists by spreading out faith more widely and – most importantly – more deeply into this world to eclipse whatever doubt atheists are trying to cast.
The conviction that believers have in the presence of the Living God must be stronger than the false conviction of unbelievers who adamantly deny His existence.
The passion drawn from the love for God should burn more fiercely than the passion drawn from the hatred for religion.
Undoubtedly, the atheist campaign won’t go far. But wouldn’t it be regretful to lose even one person … not because the atheist message is sound, but because it was conveyed with more fervor and conviction than the message preached by many churches today?
If atheists can market their claim to a world in search of answers, shouldn’t believers be able to even better market the Truth?
Calls by people like Dawkins to draw out atheists from their “closets” will hopefully draw out believers from the shallow and ordinary life of faith toward a deeper and more passionate life of faith – the true life of faith.
Staunch atheist Richard Dawkins of The New York Times bestseller The God Delusion will square off in a debate with popular Christian apologist John Lennox next month.
The Oct. 3 debate, which takes place at the Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham, Ala., will tackle one of the world’s most critical and age-old questions – Does God exist? – and views expressed in Dawkins’ latest book.
Dawkins, labeled by BBC as “Darwin’s Rottweiler,” is a prominent spokesman for the “New Atheism.” The once silent and ignored atheist minority has emerged as a vocal, insistent bunch that doesn’t just want to deny the existence of God, but wipe religion off the map, as prominent evangelical Chuck Colson put it.
In the past two years, five books touting atheism have hit bestseller lists. Dawkins’ The God Delusion is just days away from hitting one year on The New York Times bestseller list this week. And membership at Atheist Alliance International (AAI) has doubled in the past year to 5,200.
“People who were ashamed to say there is no God now say, ‘Wow, there are others out there who think like me,” said AAI president Margaret Downey, according to The Washington Post.
According to The Barna Group, about 5 million American adults claim to be atheists and staunchly reject the existence of God. If adding the agnostics and other Americans who have doubts of God’s existence but do not outright reject a Supreme Being, roughly 20 million people in the nation belong to the “no faith” group.
Dawkins rates himself on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is certitude that God exists and 7 is certitude that God does not exist, as 6, arguing that any scientist would leave open the possibility that God exists.
For Dawkins, however, “God is very improbable” and he lives his life “on the assumption that [God] is not there.”
The upcoming debate will take place as Christian apologist Lennox releases his forthcoming book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?. In the anticipated book, Lennox invites readers to re-examine the atheist’s position that the nature of science points toward the non-existence of God.
Former atheist Lee Strobel, now a noted Christian apologist, released a documentary last year using science to prove the existence of God.
“Today, science is pointing more powerfully to a creator than any other time,” said Strobel in “The Case for a Creator.” “The most logical and rational step is to put my faith in the Creator that science tells me exists.”
The God Delusion Debate is being sponsored by Fixed Point Foundation, a Christian think tank. Dawkins is a fellow of the Royal Society and Charles Simonyi chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. Lennox is a fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at the Green College of the University of Oxford. Both have dedicated their careers to science but arrived at very different conclusions. The upcoming event will also be one of the few debates in which Dawkins has ever participated.
Less than a week after a Nebraska state senator filed a lawsuit against God, a one-page document marked “Special Appearance” mysteriously appeared at the Douglas County Courthouse in Omaha, a local CBS affiliate reported Wednesday.
“It was on the counter in legal filing yesterday,” Gordon Rieber in the Clerk of the District Court’s office told Omaha’s Action 3 News. “No one saw it come in. She (an employee) turned her back and there it was.”
In the paper, “God” says the suit by Sen. Ernie Chambers (D-Omaha) should be thrown out because there was “[n]o proper and sufficient service of summons” by a deputy.
And although He doesn’t issue “terroristic threats,” as Chambers had claimed in his lawsuit, “God” wrote that the senator would receive an “appropriate punishment.”
“He is going to take care of the senator by removing him from office next year,” attorney Bill Gallup told Action 3. The CBS affiliate noted that “‘God’ apparently has a sense of humor – term limits keep Chambers from serving another term.”
Last Friday, Chambers, considered by many to be one of the Nebraska Legislature’s most controversial and colorful members, filed a lawsuit claiming that God had made “terroristic threats” against him and his constituents, inspired fear and caused “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.”
The senator also accused God of causing “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues” and more.
Chambers’ lawsuit asks for a “permanent injunction ordering Defendant to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats.”
“It’s a lawsuit against a defendant who has perpetrated much harm and damage on the human race,” he said on CNN.
Although he is known to skip morning prayers during the legislative session and often criticizes Christians, Chambers said he isn’t suing God because he has any kind of personal objections against Him.
The Omaha senator told a local Fox affiliate that his lawsuit is in response to bills brought forth by other state senators to try and stop frivolous lawsuits from being filed.
“The Constitution requires that the courthouse doors be open, so you cannot prohibit the filing of suits,” Chambers said. “Anyone can sue anyone they choose, even God.”
And the senator says he is able to sue God because the “defendant, being omnipresent, is personally present in Douglas County.”
Regarding the one-page document that mysteriously appeared in the Clerk of the District Court’s office, Gallup, a longtime defense attorney, said, “It looks to me like a legitimate document that would have to be sustained by the judge,” also noting that “God” has a good strategy.
Several attorneys that were interviewed denied writing the document, but said they’re available if God needs them in court.
“He (God) hasn’t called me yet!” defense attorney James Martin Davis told Action 3.
According to KETV.com, Chambers is asking for the court to grant him a summary judgment or, as an alternative, for the judge to set a date for a hearing as expeditiously as possible and enter a permanent injunction.
LONDON — Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, criticized popular atheist writers such as Richard Dawkins on Saturday, saying they misunderstand religious beliefs and unfairly portray faith in God as “an eccentric survival strategy.”
“There are specific areas of mismatch between what Richard Dawkins may write about and what religious people think they are doing,” Williams said in a speech at the Taliesin Arts Center in Swansea, a port city in southwestern England. “There are few things more annoying than people saying ‘I know what you mean.”‘
Williams described Dawkins, a British expert in evolutionary biology and author of the best-selling book “The God Delusion,” as a “wonderfully lively and attractive writer,” but criticized the way he has attacked belief in God as irrational.
“Don’t distract us from the real arguments by assuming that religion is an eccentric survival strategy or irrational form of explanation,” Williams said in a lecture to about 1,000 people in the fully packed auditorium or listening via speakers in nearby rooms.
Recently, militant, atheist writers such as Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” have been making an all-out assault on religious faith and the influence of religion in the world among nonbelievers.
Williams said many Christians would not recognize their religion as it is described by such critics.
“When believers pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, we may feel as we turn the pages: ‘This is not it. Whatever the religion being attacked here, it’s not actually what I believe in,”‘ the archbishop said.
He said Darwinism is hailed as a “better explanation” of the world than religion, and that such writers often say: “Why doesn’t religion retire graciously from the fold and say so?”
But Williams said religion cannot be accurately viewed in terms of science, as hypotheses, because belief in God comes with no conditions attached. For believers, he said, God is real and existed before the universe did.
“The believer who worships assumes absolutely that God is there and worth attending to,” Williams said, adding: “If God was there before the Big Bang, he must be complex.”
He urged atheist writers to better understand religion.
“The religious believer says that moral integrity, self-introspection, honesty and trust are styles of living that connect with the character of an eternal and free agency, the agency most religions call God. Agree or disagree, but I would say to critics, at least grasp that that is being talked about. Often the atheist seems to be talking about something else.”
Atheism seems to be proliferating in literature, the media, and the Internet as more atheists challenge the dominance of religion and spread their worldview, urging other nonbelievers to “come out of the closet.”
Just recently, one of the nation’s largest associations of atheists and agnostics launched their first ever national radio broadcast over the weekend greeting listeners with a weekly program that presents “the secular point of view.”
“Hello all you godless infidels, out-of-the-closet atheists and happy heathens!” says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., on a one-hour weekly radio show that began broadcasting over Air America Radio on Saturday. The Freethought Radio program invited outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens, author of the bestselling book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, as its first guest on the air.
“You can turn on the radio or TV 24/7 to be preached at. This is one hour a week of the public airwaves that offers an alternative,” says Laurie Gaylor, who describes the program as “an antidote to the domination of public airwaves by the religious right.”
Atheists are still a minority in the country with only 9 percent of the American population describing themselves as having no faith which includes atheists and agnostics. And only around 2 percent staunchly reject the existence of God and call themselves “atheist,” according to The Barna Group.
But with atheists finding themselves more comfortable with openly expressing their views, Christians are being asked to think about how they’re representing Jesus as they live and share their faith.
“Believers should continually be asking themselves questions such as: Am I loving and caring toward nonbelievers? Am I living out the relationship I say I have with Christ? Are there any discrepancies between what I say I believe and how I live my life?” says Earl Creps, who is working with the Northern California-Nevada District of the Assemblies of God to plant a church in Berkeley, Calif., according to “Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.”
Furthermore, S. Michael Craven, president of the Center for Christ & Culture, wonders if it is the actions of Christians that are causing nonbelievers and seekers to doubt the existence of God. The Center for Christ & Culture is a ministry of discipleship and Church renewal that works to equip Christians with a Christian and missional approach to culture.
“Has Christianity become so politically defined that true faith and the person of Jesus Christ is obscured in the minds of many?” he asks in his latest weekly commentary. “Is it possible that Christians are conducting themselves in such a way that the spiritually seeking are looking anywhere but to Christ?”
At a time when more Americans view Christianity as judgmental and hypocritical, Christians are being cautioned to live lives that do not contradict the message of Christ.
“In our culture, which is one that is hugely exposed to Christian images and verbiage, the credibility of the messenger is paramount,” says Randy Hurst, commissioner on evangelism for the Assemblies of God.
Leading British atheist Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling The God Delusion, is currently spearheading a campaign around the world, including the United States, to challenge the dominance of religion in everyday life and in politics and to get more atheists to speak out.
Dawkins believes atheists in the United States account for about 10 percent of the population, but that many are closeted.
“As with a lot of social groups, atheists have become defensive and have started to ‘evangelize,’” says Creps of the Assemblies of God.
“Christians need to be well informed about atheism and able to give a defense of their faith,” he notes. “But Christians shouldn’t treat atheists as a special class of people. Like all humans, atheists need a radical solution – which is Jesus – to a radical problem – which is sin.”
And when the Church serves like Jesus, it can make a tremendous impact, says Randy Rich, operations director for Convoy of Hope, a Christian relief agency, according to Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
“For many people – including atheists – such outreach may be the first real demonstration of Christ’s love they’ve ever seen,” says Rich. “When an individual feels loved, respected and cared for, that greatly opens up his or her heart and mind to Christ.”
NEW YORK — A week into the cross-country launch of a radio talk show for “Godless infidels,” the son of the late former President Ronald Reagan will be a guest.
Ron Reagan will speak this weekend on Freethought Radio, which Air America Radio is now broadcasting nationally, about his own atheism.
“He became an atheist as a kid, and argued with his parents about it,” said Dan Barker, a former evangelical Christian minister who co-hosts the Wisconsin-based program. “And he’s still an atheist.”
But is the country ready for atheist radio? Air America hopes so. The struggling left-wing broadcaster last Saturday aired its first Freethought show, hosted by Barker and his wife, Annie Laurie Gaylor, who co-chair an atheist activist group called the Freedom of Religion Foundation.
The hour-long program for non-believers currently can be heard in about 25 cities and on satellite radio.
“We think it’s a good show,” Barker said. “There’s a gap, there’s a place for it. With all this religious broadcasting, there’s nothing specific for atheists and agnostics.”
But some are skeptical that atheist talk radio will be a hit with listeners across the country.
“This one-hour weekly show from Wisconsin I don’t think is going to have much of an impact, thank God,” said Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
The program, which has until now only been running on a local station in Madison, Wis., has had guests including comedian Janeane Garofalo and abortion-clinic bombing victim Emily Lyons.
The inaugural national broadcast opened with a welcome to “Godless infidels, out-of-the-closet atheists and happy heathens.”
During the show, Barker challenged listeners to find him a passage in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence decreeing the United States as Christian, and spoke of the “concerted attempt by the religious right to promote this really pernicious myth that America is a Christian nation.”
Barker then scolded Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain for saying recently: “I would probably have to say that, yes, the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation, but I say that again in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn’t say, ‘I only welcome Christians.’ We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here, they know they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.”
The kickoff national talk show featured a discussion with British writer Christopher Hitchens, who authored the recently released “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”
There was also an interview with an advocate for a U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq (a “very brave atheist in a foxhole,” the hosts called him) who is suing the Pentagon and his Army major for allegedly stopping an atheists meeting he tried to hold on base.
Music by self-proclaimed non-believers including John Lennon (the premiere opened with his song “Imagine”), Scott Joplin and Verde broke up the talk.
“To know [the Bible] in most cases is to doubt it, although any of it can be taken literally,” Hitchens said, when recounting tales of his book tour. “This doubt is actually quite widespread. And after all, I didn’t expect that by the end of the tour, we’d have a book by Mother Teresa saying she didn’t believe a word of it.”
(The book to which Hitchens referred, “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light,” is a compilation of letters written by the Nobel Peace Prize winner over 66 years. In some of those letters, Mother Teresa wrote that she was tormented by her faith and occasionally doubted the existence of God.)
Hitchens described as “immoral” the Christian tenet that Jesus Christ died for the sins of others.
“It is an attempt to evade responsibility and re-adopt the ancient ritual of scapegoating,” he said.
Freethought Radio also features a “Theocracy Alert” segment that discusses recent religion and church-and-state themed news from an atheist perspective, and the “Pagan Pulpit,” when Barker, who became an atheist after years of being a believing minister and missionary, reads and deconstructs a passage from the Bible.
“If they want to come on an hour a week to say what they want to say, God bless them,” Zwilling said. “That’s their right in this country, as long as they’re not seeking to prohibit us from seeking our religion.”
The number of avowed atheists and agnostics — people who don’t believe in God or organized religion and people who say they don’t know whether there’s a God — is relatively small in the U.S., with those labeling themselves that way comprising between 3 and 9 percent of the population, according to Barker.
The American Religious Identification Survey, put out by the City University of New York (CUNY), found some evidence that the numbers could be rising — with 7 percent of respondents marking “non-religion” as their affiliation in 1990 and 14.5 percent checking that box in 2001.
Those identifying themselves as Christian still form the vast majority, according to the poll, but experienced a dip from 86 percent to 77 percent during the same time period.
A 2002 USA Today/Gallup poll found that 50 percent of adults consider themselves religious, 33 percent say they’re “spiritual but not religious” and 10 percent say they are neither spiritual nor religious.
Barker said the bent of the radio show — which is in cities as diverse as Chicago; Baton Rouge, La.; New York; Charlottesville, Va.; and Taos, N.M. — runs parallel to the stated mission of the Freedom of Religion Foundation: keeping God out of politics.
“Our main focus of our group is keeping state and church separate,” he said, adding that the activist group has “dozens” of projects challenging faith-based initiatives, which are government-funded social programs incorporating religious beliefs into their framework.
Atheism becomes problematic, according to Zwilling, when it is “interfering with our rights as believers.”
He thinks that separation of church and state has become a “meaningless phrase” that sometimes gets in the way of others’ beliefs. The First Amendment to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Faith-based initiatives, said Zwilling, should fall under the latter portion of that declaration.
“I certainly believe we should not have an official state-sponsored religion. People are free to practice their religion,” he said. “But the second half of that First Amendment is never mentioned.”
Christian shows and stations dominate the religious segment of radio and television programming in the United States. Many are based on an evangelical ideology, but there are other branches of Christianity represented — including Roman Catholicism in the form of the 24-hour Catholic Channel on Sirius satellite radio, which is run by the Archdiocese, and non-literalist Christianity, in the form of a show called “State of Belief” on Air America.
Air America, a politically liberal talk radio station that launched in March 2004 to compete with conservative talk radio, didn’t return a request for comment from FOXNews.com about taking on the atheism-themed program.
Barker is confident the hour-long segment will lead a lot of non-believers to believe in the show.
“There seems to be a real hunger among the non-religious to hear and to connect to that point of view more,” he said. “Even believers agree with it ... It’s not like we’re anti-religion, but we do want to be a voice.”
Zwilling doesn’t think atheist radio will become a major force to reckon with, and he said it won’t be able to compete with Christian programming.
“Many more people are going to listen and respond positively to the Catholic Channel than they will to this particular program,” he said. “We’re reaching people who are Catholic and non-Catholic alike. ... We are a nation made up predominantly of Christians — of believers.”
By Brent Bozell III
The Miller Lite people have a new ad featuring beer drinkers being instructed by a pro-sports-type commissioner in etiquette for the “More Taste League.” But the entity needing a “More Taste” lesson is the Miller Brewing Co. itself.
Last year, Miller infuriated opponents of illegal immigration when the Chicago Tribune reported it paid $30,000 for a convention and newspaper ads publicizing a march of illegal-alien advocates to protest against Speaker Dennis Hastert’s congressional office in Batavia, Ill. Consumers launched a national boycott.
Apparently, Miller learned nothing. What the brewing giant has now done is far more offensive. Now, Miller has chosen to associate itself with an event mocking the Last Supper of Jesus, one of the most precious religious occasions for Christians.
The Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco touts itself as the “crowning finale” of the city’s Leather Pride Week festivities. It’s not something you’d bring the children to, although in San Francisco those standards don’t necessarily apply. Media accounts showed that in some cases whole families attended — with the toddlers dressed in dog collars.
It is the kind of raunchy event that gives that city its reputation for decadence. But what really offended was the promotional poster for the fair. Seated at and standing behind a long table, Last Supper-style, are a set of men and women in various stages of leather dress/undress, including a man wearing a black dog mask. Sex toys, including a big red fist, are strewn across the table. As a spokesman for Concerned Women explained, “The bread and wine representing Christ’s broken body and life-giving blood are replaced with sadomasochistic sex toys in this twisted version of Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper.’”
Prominently on display in the left-hand corner of the ad — the Miller Lite sponsorship logo.
Miller Brewing would like consumers to think of it as a wholesome, all-American product. Instead, they’re in danger of becoming the Honk If You Hate Jesus beer.
Miller Lite was the only national advertiser underneath this Christ-mocking image. When pressed by the Catholic League and other offended groups, Miller spokesman Julian Green gave the standard — which is to say, slippery — corporate answer. “While Miller has supported the Folsom Street Fair for several years,” a nod to the gay community, “we take exception to the poster the organizing committee developed this year.” If you think that was weak, try the next sentence: “We understand some individuals may find the imagery offensive.”
Some individuals? There are over 225 million Christians in the United States. May be offended? It is a poster designed to insult them by blaspheming Jesus Christ.
And after putting out that Pablum, Miller still refused to remove its Lite or Genuine Draft logos from adorning the event or the event’s promotional Website.
Then the Catholic League noticed that the Miller-funded event would also mock the Last Supper through the “queer nun” group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which would also receive funds from the event. On their Website, the nun-mockers promised: “No gastric craving will go unsatisfied, no bag of silver will go unspent, and no sin will go unforgiven. ... Don’t be a Judas! Come, eat, drink and be Mary! Be sure to mention The Last Supper With The Sisters when you make your reservation.”
When the Catholic League complained to Miller about this, “they were unimpressed,” the League reported. The League has now called for a nationwide boycott of Miller beer. (Full disclosure: I am on the Advisory Board of the Catholic League and have endorsed the boycott.)
In turn, Miller announced it was conducting an immediate full-scale audit of its marketing and promotional procedures, which sounds like the company is being responsive, except again there was a dodge. The last line in this message underlined its lack of a moral spine: “It is important to understand that the Folsom Street Fair does not target the general public in its communications. The fair itself and the organization’s Website are only intended for the adult alternative lifestyle community.”
Translation: We market to Christians in the mass media. We also apply our logo to ads trashing those same Christians in our niche marketing to the “alternative lifestyle community.” Anything for a buck.
The Miller Brewing Co. has a “Distributor Agreement,” which reads in part, “Distributor shall preserve and enhance the high quality image, reputation and goodwill of Miller and its products through (i) the appearance and attitude of Distributor personnel.” What do you suppose would be the corporate response if one of its drivers got into a truck cross-dressed as a Catholic nun? Or strolled into the company lunchroom and proceeded to dump on the table an assortment of X-rated sex toys?
In 2005, a Miller worker in Wisconsin was fired when he was photographed in the newspaper drinking a Budweiser. Now that, that was intolerable.
By David Limbaugh
My goal here is to convince as many of you as possible to read Dinesh D’Souza’s compelling new book, “What’s So Great About Christianity.”
Since I wrote my book chronicling the war against Christianity in our culture, many atheists have come out of the closet to admit their hostility toward Christianity and formally declare war against it.
Anti-Christian books have cropped up like alien pods in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” not only disputing Christianity but arguing that it is a societally destructive force.
I have often lamented that too many Christians have opted out of the culture wars, for varying reasons. Some are apathetic; others mistakenly believe that the biblical injunction to rejoice in their persecution also means we should roll over and surrender. Still others grossly underestimate the stakes involved and the fierce determination of their opponents.
Dinesh D’Souza is not among the AWOL Christians. And, unlike some other Christian apologists, he meets the enemy on his own turf, confronting and deconstructing his arguments rather than merely reciting Scripture that might be intelligible only to “the choir.”
He presents a comprehensive yet concise apologetic of the Christian faith, facing head-on and answering the nagging intellectual obstacles to faith, not least the problem of human suffering. He also affirms the reliability of Scripture, the historicity of Jesus, the overwhelming proof of His resurrection and the uniqueness of Christ and the Christian religion.
But this book is more than the traditional, theological apologetic. It also contains a robust defense of Christianity’s positive influence in history and debunks the revisionist disinformation condemning the religion.
“Christianity is the very root and foundation of Western civilization.” Because of its premise that man is created in God’s image, Christianity is foundational to our firm belief in man’s dignity and our higher notions of morality, even many the secularists have plagiarized as their own. D’Souza warns that we cannot remove the Christian foundation without, ultimately, removing its values along with it.
Indeed, D’Souza shatters the fable that Christianity is responsible for most of the atrocities through the ages and documents that atheist regimes have been responsible for exponentially more deaths in the last few decades than have Christian regimes throughout history.
He also exposes the illogic of atheism’s claim to moral superiority when it can’t even offer a rational explanation for man’s moral component. Nor can atheism explain man’s consciousness. Apart from God, there is no accounting for either conscience or consciousness.
D’Souza also conclusively refutes the secularists’ widely believed myths that Christianity is the enemy of reason and science. Christianity gave rise to modern science, and most of the world’s great scientists have been Christians.
Christians believe that God set man apart from other beings, giving him “a spark of divine reason” and the special power of apprehending His creation. This eminently rational God created an orderly universe whose mysteries could be unveiled through application of man’s reason, his “faith in the possibility of science.”
D’Souza explains why science didn’t flourish in other relatively sophisticated cultures, like ancient and medieval China. “There was no confidence that the code of nature’s laws could ever be unveiled and read because there was no assurance that a divine being, even more rational than ourselves, had ever formulated [a code of nature’s laws] capable of being read.”
D’Souza’s approach is admirable because he doesn’t allow himself to be on the defensive but aggressively highlights the weaknesses in atheistic thought and proves that professed intellectual objections to Christianity are often a cover for rebellion against Christian morality.
While atheists congratulate themselves for employing reason to follow the evidence “wherever it leads,” D’Souza shows that their presuppositions, including their “unwavering commitment to naturalism and materialism,” sometimes inhibit their objective inquiry.
It’s one thing for scientists to define science in such a way as to exclude the supernatural — one of the secularists’ rationales for opposing the introduction of intelligent design theory into the classroom. But it’s altogether another for secular scientists to use science as “a complete framework for understanding man and the universe.” It is completely nonsensical and dogmatic to say God is beyond the scope of scientific inquiry and then proceed to use science to promote an atheistic worldview.
It is impossible to do this book justice in a short review. But please trust me that it is an indispensable ally for the Christian in defending his faith — historically and doctrinally. But it is also tailor-made for any open-minded skeptics among us who might be surprised by the clarity, intelligence, depth and inviting gentleness D’Souza brings to these unsurpassably important issues. I strongly encourage you to buy it — and read it from cover to cover.
By Dr. Paul Kengor
Editor’s Note: Acclaimed commentator and best-selling author Dinesh D’Souza recently released his latest book, What’s So Great About Christianity. D’Souza spoke to the Center for Vision & Values’ Executive Director Dr. Paul Kengor.
Dr. Paul Kengor: Dinesh, I can’t help but begin by tossing you a big softball: I’m impressed by the endorsements for your new book. This is quite an eclectic bunch: Francis Collins of the Human Genome Institute, academic Stanley Fish, the Rev. Robert Schuller, Oxford’s Daniel Robinson, historian Paul Johnson and even Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine. Clearly, you’ve done something right. The title of this book, What’s So Great About Christianity, is a natural follow-up to your earlier work, What’s So Great About America, but the theme is really a follow-up to a bunch of recent books by others attacking religious belief generally and the Christian faith in particular. This book is obviously an answer to the polemics by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and others. What’s your answer?
Dinesh D’Souza: We’re seeing a surge of atheist confidence and atheist belligerence. The best-selling atheist books like Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and Dawkins’ The God Delusion are one indication of this. Another is the militancy of atheism on many campuses today. In a way, the atheist attacks on God and religion are a bit odd. I don’t believe in unicorns, but I don’t go around writing books about them. I suspect what has given atheists a boost is the Islamic radicalism we’ve seen in the wake of 9/11. The atheists glibly equate Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism, and then conclude that religion itself is the problem.
My book What’s So Great About Christianity is consciously written in the C.S. Lewis tradition. Just as Lewis, writing after World War II, dealt with issues specific to his time, such as “How can a just God allow the Holocaust?” so too my book is a response to the intellectual and moral attack on Christianity launched by the new atheists. I take the atheist argument seriously, and meet it on its own ground, which is the ground of reason and skepticism. I want to show Christians and religious believers that theism makes vastly more sense of the world and of our lives than agnosticism or atheism. I also want to persuade genuine seekers that they should take Christianity seriously, and give it real consideration. I don’t expect to convince dogmatic atheists, but I do intend to expose and refute and embarrass them.
Kengor: In a recent interview, Oxford’s Alistair McGrath said that he is somewhat shocked by the lack of new insights in these best-selling books by Hitchens and Dawkins and the like, and how they are actually, in his view, filled with hackneyed, easily refutable arguments served up for years. He said it seems clear—and very surprisingly so—that these authors don’t appear to read the many readily available counter-arguments that quickly refute their assertions. McGrath believes they have constructed very weak cases that any rank-and-file minister worth his salt could dissect paragraph-by-paragraph with little effort. That’s pretty harsh. Likewise, Dr. Stanley Fish—not exactly a conservative—calls these books unsophisticated “rants.” Do you agree with these judgments?
D’Souza: While there are a lot of shallow arguments made by Dawkins, Hitchens, [Sam] Harris and the others, behind them there is the formidable atheism of philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Friedrich Nietzsche. My book takes the new atheists to task on specific fallacies and whoppers that they routinely make. But I’m not content to defeat them on their weakest ground. So at times I strengthen their arguments, remove contradictions, and give them the benefit of every doubt. I attack their argument not at its vulnerable point but at its strong point. If I succeed there, then I have defeated atheism in its strongest and most coherent form. Ultimately, it is Russell and Heidegger and Nietzsche who pose the greatest challenge to believers, not intellectual snipers like Hitchens and Dawkins.
Kengor: Despite all the noise being made by atheists lately on the New York Times Best-seller List, you believe that we are now witnessing what you call, “The Twilight of Atheism,” and a triumph of not only religion around the world—you note that the continued growth of religion around the globe has gone unnoticed (or at least not remarked upon) by atheists—but of Christianity in particular. Is that wishful thinking on your part? What’s your evidence?
D’Souza: There is a whole body of data showing that the world is growing more religious. One reason for this is that religious countries and religious people are having more children, while secular countries and secular people are not reproducing themselves. Interestingly while Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are all growing worldwide, Christianity is the fastest-growing religion. Islam grows mainly because of Muslims who have large families, while Christianity is also growing through rapid conversion. Once a religion confined mostly to Europe, Christianity has become a truly universal religion and over time it will increasingly be dominated by Asia, Africa and South America. This is very disturbing news for atheists. Not so long ago the typical atheist could be comforted by the idea that as the world became more modern, more urbanized, more educated, it would also become more secular. Religion would wither away. This hasn’t happened, and the trend is actually in the other direction. In fact, religion is booming in rapidly modernizing countries like India and China. Perhaps the new atheism is a backlash against the unforeseen success of religion.
Kengor: You have some surprises in here even for Christians, including those Christians who have bought into the caricature of the Galileo incident as a case of science and reason being trashed by close-minded religious fanatics—centuries-ago precursors to the Salem witch-hunters and, of course, George W. Bush—who opposed not merely scientific inquiry but progress itself. You re-examine the Galileo case, calling it “an atheist fable.” Tell us about this.
D’Souza: It seems like every year or so one of the news magazines does a cover story on Science vs. Religion. It turns out that this whole framework is a 19th-century fabrication. There is no sustained historical clash between science and religion. In fact, Christianity was crucial in giving birth to modern science, and the vast, vast majority of leading scientists over the past 500 years have been Christians. The whole warfare model relies on a handful of examples, mostly exaggerated or made up. Perhaps the best example that the atheists can cite is the Galileo case. I re-examine this case in the light of the best scholarship about it. We discover that the evidence for heliocentrism was not definitive in Galileo’s day. With hindsight we know that Galileo was right, but the arguments he made for heliocentrism were actually wrong. The Church’s position was far more open-minded and reasonable than Galileo’s. He made agreements that he didn’t keep, and blatantly lied about his views before the Inquisition courts. Still, he was treated leniently and allowed to continue his scientific work and died in his bed. I’m only giving hints of a remarkable story that readers should digest in full in the book.
Kengor: You continue this thought by, quite the contrary, arguing that the Church from the beginning was not anti-science and anti-reason but pro-science and pro-reason, and credit Christianity with “the invention of invention.” Who were these oddball Renaissance Christian scientists who believed in God—surely there weren’t many of them, right?
D’Souza: Well, on the Christian side we have Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Brahe, Descartes, Boyle, Newton, Leibniz, Gassendi, Pascal, Mersenne, Cuvier, Harvey, Dalton, Farady, Hershel, Joule, Lyell, Lavoisier, Priestley, Kelvin, Ohm, Ampere, Steno, Pasteur, Maxwell, Planck, Mendel and Lemaitre. Einstein too was a believer in God as a kind of supreme mind or spirit discernible through the complex and beautiful laws of nature. So none of these folks saw theism or Christianity as incompatible with science, as Richard Dawkins and others would have it. Dawkins is a decent popularizer of science but compared to Kepler, Newton, and Einstein he is a Lilliputian. So he works very hard to make Einstein look like an atheist. His proof is a complete failure, but give the man credit for effort. The deeper point to be made here, however, is not merely that leading scientists over the centuries have been Christian, but that science itself, in its assumption that the universe is rational and obeys laws discoverable by the human mind, is based on Christian precepts and cannot in fact be done without Christian presuppositions.
Kengor: So, are you saying that many of the comforts that Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins take for granted—like electricity and the law of gravity—stem from the scientific breakthroughs of devoutly Christian men who judged that God was great?
D’Souza: I could give numerous examples here—Boyle, Newton, Kepler—but let me focus for a moment on Kepler. Kepler wanted to become a theologian, but he finally decided to become an astronomer to demonstrate God’s hand in creation. When Kepler realized that planets don’t move in circular orbits, he was criticized by some for rejecting the creative beauty of God’s plan. These critics reasoned that surely God would have used perfect circles to choreograph the planetary motions. Kepler was sure, however, based on his deep Christian faith, that God had employed an even more beautiful pattern, and he labored hard to decipher it. When he discovered what it was—his three laws of planetary motion—he experienced something of a spiritual epiphany. In a prayer concluding his “Harmony of the World,” Kepler implored God “graciously to cause that these demonstrations may lead to the salvation of souls.” I don’t think we can understand the motivations and greatness of scientists like Kepler and Newton if we ignore their theological and specifically Christian beliefs.
By Dr. Paul Kengor
Editor’s Note: The “V&V Q&A” is an e-publication from the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. Each issue will present an interview with an intriguing thinker or opinion-maker that we hope will prove illuminating to readers everywhere. In this second installment of a special three-part edition of the “V&V Q&A,” the Center for Vision & Values was granted an exclusive interview with acclaimed commentator and best-selling author Dinesh D’Souza regarding his newly released book, What’s So Great About Christianity. D’Souza spoke to the Center for Vision & Values’ Executive Director Dr. Paul Kengor.
Dr. Paul Kengor: Dinesh, there’s this quite stunning, inexplicable refrain that we hear constantly today, from the op-ed pages of the New York Times to email blasts from my atheist friends, about the alleged incompatibility of faith and reason—as if you are either a person of faith or a person of reason. They genuinely seem to have no knowledge that the Church from the very beginning—for 2,000 years—has argued that faith and reason reinforce one another and are mutually compatible. Protestants believe this, and the Catholic Church has noted this vigorously not only since the writings of Thomas Aquinas but all the way back to Clement of Alexandria, and has kept it out front with regular homilies by the current pope, Benedict XVI, and major encyclicals from the last pope, John Paul II, who reaffirmed the “two wings” of faith and reason that lift us to truth and Truth. Anyone with a modicum of religious knowledge would know this. And yet, few secularists seem to be aware of this history, while they simultaneously portray believers as stupid and themselves as smart. What explains the ignorance and the arrogance?
Dinesh D’Souza: The new atheists like Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and Victor Stenger are all theological ignoramuses. Their work shows little or no understanding of either Catholic or Protestant thought. I shouldn’t even mention other religions, about which they know even less. One critic, Terry Eagleton, says of Dawkins that his writing about Christian theology has all the credibility of a Christian who attempted to criticize modern science based on knowledge derived solely from a single book on British birds. Not that this stops our intrepid atheists from charging forward. Their motto is, “Take that, Aquinas!” Even Christopher Hitchens, who has a wider literary and cultural range, shows that he has no understanding whatever of thinkers like Augustine and Anselm. At one point he accuses Anselm of arguing that if you can imagine God in your head, then God must exist. This is a very stupid argument, but then Anselm doesn’t make it. Hitchens is a veritable pyromaniac in a field of straw men.
Kengor: Is this what you mean by “miseducating the young?” As for those of this mindset, have they been miseducated on these basics of religion, and are they, in turn, continuing the process now with the next generation?
D’Souza: Something a bit more insidious is going on here. The new atheists realize that the world isn’t going their way and religion is not about to disappear. So they want to take over the minds of the next generation. They want to do this through the schools. Of course, they know that religious parents might want to have something to say about this. Consequently, all the atheist tracts are filled with attacks on the idea that parents should have the authority to teach their children about religion and values. From the atheist point of view, religious education is a form of brainwashing. So schools and colleges are viewed by the atheists as institutions for deprogramming. It’s a little Orwellian, but, of course, the advocates of these schemes present them in the attractive language of “open-mindedness” and “liberation.”
Kengor: How much of this is the fault of not only the lack of religious education in public schools but modern education at secular universities? Some parents reading this right now may be surprised to hear that if their son or daughter takes an elective on religion at many (if not most) of our major universities, the course is likely to be taught by a skeptic if not an atheist, one quite often outright hostile to Christianity, and who at the least sees all religions as basically equal, with none having a rightful claim of truth over the others.
D’Souza: I’m not against the study of comparative religions, or even having skeptics and atheists teach such courses. But if you are going to teach religion you should be knowledgeable about religion and you should approach the subject fairly. When a professor teaches Hamlet in English class, or Hegel in philosophy, you don’t demand that your students believe everything that Shakespeare or Hegel says. But you do ask that they plunge into Shakespeare’s world and Hegel’s thought. You want students, at least provisionally, to go along with the playwright and the philosopher at least to get a sympathetic understanding of what they are trying to convey. Why should religion and Christianity not be taught in the same way?
Kengor: You write that the thinking of the atheist professor toward today’s youth goes like this: “Let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’ belief.” Thus, you maintain that the secularization of young people in college, for instance, is not so much a natural process of alleged enlightened maturation but one guided and orchestrated by teachers with an “anti-religious” agenda.
D’Souza: I illustrate with a quotation from the atheist philosopher Richard Rorty, who died recently and is, I suspect, now having a lengthy conversation with his maker. Rorty argued that secular professors ought “to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” The goal of education, in his view, is to help them to “escape the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.” Indeed, Rorty warned parents that when they send their children to college, “We are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.” Rorty keeps using the term “fundamentalism” but I think he means traditional Christianity. Of course, he is quite oblivious to his own secular fundamentalism, which is just as narrow and bigoted as anything you will find among religious people.
Kengor: So, quite often, two parents spend 18 years inculcating certain religious beliefs and values into their child only to turn over that child to a university that in four years undermines those beliefs and values—and the parents pay big bucks for that process of deconstruction?
D’Souza: Who said atheists weren’t clever?
Kengor: This doesn’t describe a college like Grove City College, but it really does describe so much of academia, which is easily among the most secular institutions in America. You and I could back that up with hundreds of examples and even survey data. One 2007 survey, for instance, showed that professors harbor a hostility toward evangelical Christians in particular. For the sake of academic honesty, should these universities redo their mission statements to make clear their belief in secularism and cultural and moral relativism?
D’Souza: When I speak on college campuses and point out that there is so much closed-mindedness and political correctness going on, even in our most elite universities, inevitably some professor will ask me about Bob Jones University or Jerry Falwell’s university. The professor’s point is, “Aren’t they just as closed-minded over there?” But, of course, Bob Jones University and Liberty University are very clear about their religious commitments. They state them up front. By contrast, secular universities promote an ideological agenda, but they pretend to be broad-minded and open and intellectually diverse.
Kengor: Having said all of this, your book is positive. You think Christianity is not only “great” but in great shape. Why are you such an optimist?
D’Souza: Theism in general, and Christianity in particular, make so much more sense of the world than the doctrines of unbelief. This is in a way the great secret that my book communicates to Christians. There’s no reason to be on the defensive. Ours is a set of beliefs that are completely supported by modern science and modern thought. For example, the Bible says that through the design of the universe we can see the handiwork of God. The Anglican theologian William Paley made design arguments 200 years ago. Richard Dawkins tries, in The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion, to show that Darwin overthrew the design argument. But if you look at the totality of the discoveries made by modern science, it’s evident that the argument from design is vastly stronger today than it was when Paley wrote. I’m genuinely excited by modern science because it’s proving propositions that were boldly advanced in the Bible thousands of years ago.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
“I do not, by nature, thrive on confrontation,” declares Richard Dawkins, the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University and one of the world’s leading skeptics concerning Christianity and belief in God.
Dawkins is well known as an intellectual adversary to all forms of religious belief – and of Christianity in particular. He is one of the world’s most prolific scientists, writing books for a popular audience and addressing his strident worldview of evolutionary theory to an expanding audience. Put simply, Richard Dawkins aspires to be the “devil’s chaplain” of Darwinian evolution.
All this is what makes Dawkins’ denial of a confrontational approach so ludicrous. It is simply false at face value. This is a man who has taken every conceivable opportunity to make transparently clear his unquestioned belief that the dominant theory of evolution renders any form of belief in God irrational, backward, and dangerous.
Dawkins set out the basic framework of his worldview in best-selling books including, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, and, most famously, The Selfish Gene. Now, in The God Delusion, Dawkins brings his attack on Christianity to a broader audience. Interestingly, Dawkins’ new book is released close on the heels of two similar works. Fellow skeptics Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett have written similar books released since late summer. Taken together, these three books represent something of a frontal attack upon the legitimacy of belief in God.
There are few surprises in The God Delusion. Dawkins is a gifted writer who is able to popularize scientific concepts, and he writes with an acerbic style that fits his purpose in this volume. His condescending and sarcastic tone set the stage for what he hopes will be a devastating attack upon theism.
Dawkins admits his “presumptuous optimism” in hoping that his book will cause persons to set aside their faith. “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down,” he asserts. Time will tell.
Though The God Delusion is intended more as an attack upon theism than as a defense of evolutionary theory, the framework of evolution is never far from Dawkins’ mind. In his opening chapter, he argues that most legitimate scientists – indeed all who really understand the issues at stake – are atheists of one sort or another. He defines the alternatives as between a stark atheism (such as that Dawkins himself represents) and a form of nonsupernatural religion, as illustrated by the case of Albert Einstein. “Great scientists of our time who sound religious usually turn out not to be so when you examine their beliefs more deeply,” he explains. As examples, Dawkins offers not only Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking but also Martin Rees, currently Britain’s Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society. According to Dawkins, Rees “goes to church as an ‘unbelieving Anglican . . . out of loyalty to the tribe.’” As Dawkins explains, Rees “has no theistic beliefs, but shares the poetic naturalism that the cosmos provokes in the other scientists I have mentioned. He cites Einstein to the effect that he was a “deeply religious nonbeliever” – moved by the majesty of the cosmos but without any reference whatsoever to a supernatural being.
As Dawkins explains, real scientists are naturalists. As such, they eliminate entirely the question of a supernatural being’s existence. “The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason.”
As Dawkins then makes clear, his attack upon belief is explicitly and exclusively directed toward belief in supernatural gods. As he explains, “the most familiar” of these deities is Yahweh. Put simply, Dawkins holds no respect for those who believe in the God of the Bible, whom he describes as ruthless, cruel, selfish, and vindictive.
Accordingly, Dawkins does not understand why social etiquette requires respect for those who believe in God.
In one of the central chapters of his book, Dawkins attempts to accomplish two simultaneous purposes: to undermine the intellectual movement known as Intelligent Design and, in a twist of its logic, to suggest that belief in God is itself a refutation of the very notion of an intelligent design. As Dawkins sees it, “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.” As he sets out his case, he denies that there could be any legitimate basis for belief in God. The very notion of a supernatural agent flies directly in the face of his presuppositional naturalism. Therefore, by definition, such a God cannot exist and those who believe in such a God prove their intellectual inadequacy or gullibility.
In accordance with his own evolutionary theory, Dawkins acknowledges that the universe displays appearances of design. Nevertheless, he suggests that these appearances are false, and that any example of apparent design is actually due to the Darwinian engine of natural selection. He considers the traditional proof for God’s existence offered by the philosophers and rejects each out of hand. Finally, he considers the argument that the existence of God can be proved by Scripture – but then launches a broadside attack upon Scripture itself.
When it comes to the fundamentals of the Christian faith, Dawkins displays absolute amazement that any intelligent person could even entertain the notion that such teachings might be true. Pointing back to the nineteenth century, Dawkins asserts that the Victorian era was “the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment.” He adds: “When pressed, many educated Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked.”
Since Dawkins considers the existence of God to be nothing more than a scientific hypothesis – just like any other – he presents his case that “the factual premise of religion – the God Hypothesis – is untenable.” In other words, “God almost certainly does not exist.”
So why do so many persons believe in Him? Consistent with his evolutionary worldview, Dawkins must offer a purely naturalistic interpretation for the origin and function of religion. He argues that religion must be, like all other human phenomena, a product of Darwinian evolution. Nevertheless, he understands that the existence of religious belief poses some interesting Darwinian questions. “Religion is so wasteful, so extravagant; and Darwinian selection habitually targets and eliminates waste,” Dawkins explains. Therefore, there must be some fascinating Darwinian explanation for how religious belief emerged and survives. Citing his colleague Daniel Dennett, Dawkins suggests that religious belief is “time-consuming, energy-consuming” and “often as extravagantly ornate as the plumage of a bird of paradise.” He sees no good in it at all. “Thousands of people have been tortured for their loyalty to a religion, persecuted by zealots for what is in many cases a scarcely distinguishable alternative faith. Religion devours resources, sometimes on a massive scale. A medieval cathedral could consume a hundred man centuries in its construction, yet it was never used as a dwelling, or for any recognizable useful purpose.”
In his own twist, Dawkins argues that belief in God is simply a by-product of some other evolutionary mechanism. He suggests that one possible source of belief in God (understood in purely physicalist and natural terms) is the need for the brains of children to accept on faith the teachings of their elders. Thus, he argues that evolution may have “psychologically primed” the human brain for some form of belief in God. Nevertheless, whatever function this may have served the process of evolution in the past, Dawkins now believes that it has become a dangerous liability.
“I surmise that religions, like languages, evolved with sufficient randomness, from beginnings that are sufficiently arbitrary, to generate the bewildering – and sometimes dangerous – richness of diversity that we observe. At the same time, it is possible that a form of natural selection, coupled with the fundamental uniformity of human psychology, sees to it that the diverse religions share significant teachers in common.” In the end, Dawkins sees all these forms as dangerous.
Along the way, Dawkins insists that morality is not based in absolute truth but in a consequentialist form of reasoning that is itself a monument of evolutionary development. He plays with categories and concepts – no doubt intentionally – in order to confuse the question. Christians do not argue that those who believe in God always act in a way that is morally superior to those who do not. Atheists may behave better than Christians. This is to our shame, but it does not pose an intellectual challenge to the validity of the Christian faith. The more urgent question has to do with how any form of moral absolute – including even a prohibition on murder or incest – can survive if all morality is merely a natural phenomenon of human evolution. Dawkins simply embraces the relativity of morality, arguing that this explains why Christians are so dangerous. Believing in moral absolutes, Christians are led to defend the sanctity of human life at every level and to believe that, of all things, the Creator actually has set forth moral commandments and expectations concerning our sexuality. Dawkins rejects these ideas altogether.
At the same time, he suggests that the morality revealed in the Bible is actually immoral when judged against the enlightened standards of our current moral Zeitgeist. Furthermore, Dawkins argues that modern persons do not actually derive their morality from the Bible, no matter how much they may claim to do so.
In a sweeping rejection of biblical Christianity, Dawkins expresses outrage at the morality of both the Old and New Testaments. “I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic and repellant. We should also dismiss it as barking mad, but for its ubiquitous familiarity which has dulled our objectivity,” he asserts. Dawkins would dispense with the Ten Commandments and replace these with a new set of commandments more attuned to modern times. Among his proposed commandments are these: “Enjoy your own sex life (so long as it damages nobody else) and leave others to enjoy theirs in private whatever their inclinations, which are none of your business;” “Do not discriminate or oppress on the basis of sex, race or (as far as possible) species.” Another of Dawkins’ commandments hits close to home: “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.”
Amazingly, Dawkins denies that he is himself an absolutist. Accordingly, he expresses incredulity at the fact that he is seen as a particularly ardent opponent of Christianity.
“Despite my dislike of gladiatorial contests, I seem somehow to have acquired a reputation for pugnacity towards religion. Colleagues who agree that there is no God, who agree that we do not need religion to be moral, and agree that we can explain the roots of religion and of morality in non-religious terms, nevertheless come back to me in gentle puzzlement. Why are you so hostile?”
Dawkins denies that he is a “fundamentalist atheist.” “Maybe scientists are fundamentalists when it comes to defining in some abstract way what is meant by ‘truth.’ But so is everybody else,” he insists. “I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true than when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere.”
In the end, Richard Dawkins will surely fail in his quest to turn theists in to atheists. His book represents nothing fundamentally new – just the same old arguments repeated over and over again. Dawkins is quick to label his intellectual adversaries as fundamentalists, but he conveniently redefines the term so that it does not apply to his own position. He claims to live life solely on the basis of scientific evidence, but is so fundamentally committed to the theory of evolution that we cannot take his protestations to the contrary seriously.
The God Delusion is sure to garner significant attention in the media and in popular culture. Dawkins, along with the other fashionable skeptics and atheists of the day, makes for good television and creates an instant media sensation. In one sense, we should be thankful for the forthrightness with which he presents his arguments. This is not a man who minces words, and he never hides behind his own argument. Furthermore, at several points in the book he correctly identifies weaknesses in many of the arguments put forth by theists. As is so often the case, we learn from our intellectual enemies as well as from our allies.
The tone of the book is strident, the content of the book is bracing, and the attitude of the book is condescending. Nevertheless, Dawkins insists that his strident attack upon the faith is limited to words. “I am not going to bomb anybody, behead them, stone them, burn them at the stake, crucify them, or fly planes into their skyscrapers, just because of a theological disagreement,” he insists. He even allows that “we can retain a sentimental loyalty to the cultural and literary traditions” of organized religion, “and even participate in religious rituals such as marriages and funerals,” he asserts. Nevertheless, all this must be done without buying into the supernatural beliefs that historically went along with those traditions.” Further: “We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.” All this raises more questions than Dawkins answers. If belief in God is so intellectually abhorrent, why would anyone want to retain the traditions associated with these beliefs? Why does Dawkins acknowledge that all this amounts to “a treasured heritage?” It must be because, in the end, even Richard Dawkins is not as much of an atheist as he believes himself to be. If Dawkins is so certain that theism is dead, why would he devote so much of his time and energy to opposing it? A man who is genuinely certain that Christianity is passing away would feel no need to write a 400-page book in order to urge its passing.
All human misconceptions about God are based on: an attempt to approach Him on ones own terms, force Him to possess human vice, reduce Him into an impersonal force only to be easily manipulated by human will, or elevating the created order as equivocal with the transcendent creator as if all physical substance of the universe were eternal. The very fact that atheists have faith in the improbable odds and chance as the “creator” of the universe and life means that they are superstitious by definition. Instead of seeking to know that ONE and ONLY God who created this Earth, atheists sought to condemn Him as evil - in order to justify their lifestyle of defiance.
Just turn on your TV News. Take a look at all the violence, immorality, horror, marital unfaithfulness and verbal abuse that many people call entertainment. I also see more evidence that the Bible MOST ACCURATELY depicts the human condition when it says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) We see more evidence of an evil, ruthless, cruel, selfish, and vindictive human race, which alone, is responsible for the atrocities and miseries afflicting themselves. We also see that the only example of the only Living God (who is Good because He is Just) is the God of the Bible, who alone, could be responsible for the fine-tuning of the universe and designed all the engineering and purpose within all living things.
Regardless of a persons occupation and stated beliefs, when atheism and secular humanism is philosophically practiced they have inspired the some greatest miseries on the face of the earth, namely, depression, suicide, moral decay leading to rampant STD’s, holocausts, forced euthanasia and sterilizations, violence, selfishness, abortion, infanticide, totalitarianism, drug and alcohol addiction, no moral compass of decency, pornography addiction, molestations, worthlessness, racism, anarchy, the censorship the freedom of speech, the censorship of the freedom of the press, and have inspired governments and schools that limit, censor, criminalize, persecute those who freely express their faith. It really does not matter if people label themselves a priest, a pagan, a teacher, a senator, a scientist, an engineer, a “Christian”, a miser, an American, a Darwinist, a mistake or whatever – when the philosophy of atheism/agnosticism or secular humanism is actually practiced - you can expect some or all of the above mentioned miseries.
The atheists are only right in this sense: the god, which the atheists have invented in their own minds, does not exist and is merely the reflection of their own evil heart. The atheist’s god concept was manufactured to justify their personal rebellion against the Holy God, who will by nature hold them accountable for their crimes against Him. The atheists’ manufactured god DOES NOT exist. Yahweh, the Bible’s God, subsist necessarily.
By Mike S. Adams
I declared myself an agnostic in 1983 and stayed that way until I declared myself an atheist in 1992. The road from Christianity to atheism and back to Christianity was – with my apologies to Beatles fans – long and winding. It took many years to travel.
The decision to major in psychology was one of many factors that led to my decision to leave the church. Not many psychology departments have more atheists than the nearest philosophy department. But many come close. And the way the discipline of psychology approaches religion is likely to lead some students astray.
I recall quite well my first exposure to Freud and his ideas about the Oedipus complex. I became well-schooled in his ideas about man’s compelling psychological need to create a God in his own image – to resolve various feelings of guilt flowing from childhood trauma. I was so captivated by these ideas that I read “Moses and Monotheism,” “Totem and Taboo,” and “The Future of an Illusion” in my spare time. Each took me further away from God.
B.F. Skinner had a similar impact on my thinking. The principles of operant conditioning were not always used to explain religion away. Strict behaviorists seldom have a compelling need to “look inside the black box” or, in other words, analyze unobservable thoughts. But these principles do provide a ready explanation for those convinced that man created God, not vice versa. I was so captivated by Skinner that I read “Walden Two” and “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” in my spare time. These books pushed me further in the direction of atheism.
The notion that psychology might provide an explanation for atheism – rather than theism - never really occurred to me during my years as a psychology student (from 1983 until 1989 when I received my M.S. in psychology). But, in March of 1989, a woman named Martha Hamilton – the mother of my “second mother” Lisa Chambers – responded to my praise of B.F. Skinner and the behaviorists with the following comment: “It just sounds like a bunch of people trying to get out of serving God.”
I must confess that I thought Mrs. Hamilton was just a simple-minded fundamentalist. Now, I realize that she was right and I was wrong.
If psychologists were really interested in the fair and balanced treatment of religion they would see the obvious connection between cognitive dissonance theory and atheism. And, of course, they would discuss it in their classes in conjunction with the application of Freudian and Skinnerian theories seeking to explain religion away.
In the 1950s and 1960s, psychologists like Eliot Aronson began to suggest that behavior sometimes causes attitudes rather than vice versa. In the wake of this discussion, cognitive dissonance became a popular psychological theory. Put simply, it spoke to the issue of how beliefs sometimes emerge from a tension between certain cognitive elements.
For example, if a person is cognizant of the fact that smoking causes cancer, he will experience dissonance when he thinks about the fact that he is a smoker. He may be inclined to adopt other beliefs like “They will probably find a cure for cancer before I get it.” He may develop powerful, even silly, rationalizations like “I’ll quit next year” or “It does not matter because the world could end tomorrow in a nuclear holocaust” or “I could be hit by a car tomorrow so I might as well smoke today.”
Because Christianity is sometimes a demanding religion, it, too, may create a good deal of cognitive dissonance. For example, the declaration “I am a Christian” can sometimes clash with the awareness that “Christians are supposed to tithe” or “Christians are supposed to love their enemies.”
I have seen people who began tithing to the church and loving their enemies upon converting to Christianity. But that is not how it always ends for the converted Christian. Like me, many other Christians have resolved the tension by, at least temporarily, deciding to abandon the Way. Sometimes it is simply easier to say “I am not a Christian.”
Those who become agnostic or atheist often say that it was due to an intellectual journey or an intellectually honest re-appraisal of childhood faith. But, as my mentor David L. McMillen used to say, “People rarely understand their own motivations.”
I believe that cognitive dissonance theory helps people better understand their own motivations. I believe it has helped me to understand my fall from Christianity, which, thankfully ended with a return to the church.
But the theory might also explain why it took me so long to get back to church. I abandoned atheism on March 7th of 1996. But I did not return to the church until October of 2000. The reason for the delay was simple: I was ashamed.
As I imagined myself walking back into a church, I also imagined people thinking and, perhaps, even saying “What is Mike Adams doing here at church?” But I made it back and my life continues to be blessed as I walk further with Jesus every day.
I can understand the dissonance that is felt by the young woman who wrote to me last week telling of her multiple suicide attempts in the wake of a battle with manic depression. She says she cannot seem to get out of bed on Sundays because of the shame she feels for the harm she has tried to inflict upon herself. She needs to hear from confessing and humble Christians who say they desperately want her back regardless of what she’s done.
I often wonder why we speak of the atheists as if they are our enemies. And I wonder whether that should matter if we call ourselves Christians. I hope this column will inspire some cognitive dissonance, for the writer and the reader alike. And I hope the tension will be resolved with love, which the best cure for dissonance, or, for that matter, anything else.
By David Limbaugh
Last week, I strongly endorsed “What’s So Great About Christianity,” Dinesh D’Souza’s impressive defense of Christianity against the almost-organized assault by such “antitheists” as writer Christopher Hitchens. I heartily reiterate my endorsement.
I have since read portions of Hitchens’ new book “God is Not Great” and watched his debate with theologian Alister McGrath. Please indulge me in addressing a few of Hitchens’ arguments.
Hitchens unfairly and illogically conflates Christianity with other religions, blaming it not only for the evils committed in its own name but also for those committed by practitioners of other religions.
Hitchens’ approach is only fair if you accept the modern pluralistic ruse that all religions are the same, which they aren’t since many of their truth claims contradict each other.
Hitchens also blames “religion” for the evils of godless secular systems like Soviet Communism because they had religious attributes, such as dictators to whom the state demanded reverence. By identifying secular regimes as religious, Hitchens goes for a twofer: exempting secularism for the evils of militantly secular states and simultaneously condemning religion for them. While clever, this is enormously convoluted thinking.
Hitchens claims antitheists “distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.” But doesn’t it outrage reason to foist on Christianity the burden of explaining away evils committed by other religions or secularism, both of which contradict the exclusive truth claims of Christianity?
Though Christianity should answer for its own evils, antitheists shouldn’t be permitted to grossly exaggerate those evils and grossly understate those committed by others. And while Hitchens longs for a “new enlightenment,” where reason and science flourish without the poison of religion, he seems to forget the abject mayhem ushered in by the unshackled, licentious secular liberty of the French Jacobins.
Moving on, Hitchens sets up a straw man when he says it’s “contemptible” for people to maintain that their religion is good in providing comfort to people — for example, in times of personal loss — even if their religion isn’t true. I know of no Christians who make this argument. To the contrary, Christianity provides comfort precisely because it is true and allows a personal relationship with an eternal, omnibenevolent God.
Next, Hitchens contends the whole concept of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross is not only “superstition” but also immoral.
He asks, “How moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.”
Hitchens rejects that he is responsible for Christ’s flogging and crucifixion, in which he had no say and no part. He rejects that Christ’s agony was necessary to compensate for the sin of Adam, of which he also had no part.
The Original Sin Doctrine has always bothered me a bit, too. But it’s hard to deny in light of the human condition, which only the Biblical worldview accurately describes. This condition also renders the secular humanist’s utopian belief in the perfectibility of man to be the kind of wishful thinking at which Hitchens’ derisively scoffs. Whether or not you believe man is condemned for Adam’s sins, doesn’t the universality of our own personal sins make the matter moot?
I respectfully suggest that Hitchens is looking at this backward. We are not condemned for Christ’s death but for our own sinfulness. Christ’s death and resurrection are not our condemnation. They are our avenue to deliverance.
In the debate, Hitchens seemed to be saying that the idea of atonement through Christ’s substitutionary death is inconsistent with our accountability for sin. He also seemed to object to the idea that our salvation depends on whether we “believe” Christ died for us.
Saving faith, however, is not merely intellectual assent to the proposition that Christ died for you. Rather, it’s a full-blown commitment to placing your very life in His hands and entrusting Him to save you. Saving faith also involves genuine repentance — a deliberate turning away from your sins in complete humility — and turning toward Christ for salvation. There’s plenty of accountability in sincere contrition.
There is nothing immoral in someone voluntarily sacrificing His life for you — especially when that someone is the very Giver of life — the Judge of all things. Nothing could be more moral; nothing could be more loving.
Hitchens apparently believes skepticism is a badge of intelligence and reserved for nonbelievers, yet many believers have their fair share of it, too. They don’t fear it, they embrace it, as working through it invigorates rather than undermining their faith.
While Hitchens mocks the faith of Christians in “myths,” Christians believe their faith is strongly supported by evidence. Hitchens wholly ignores that evidence as well as the great leaps of faith antitheists must take to assume away the limitations of science and naturalism in explaining man’s origins.
By Janet M. LaRue
A number of world-class “atheists” have authored books purporting to explain to us knuckle-dragging “Christian lemmings” why God’s a myth in league with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. And the mainstream media are beating publicity drums for the godless with a zeal that would shame a tent revivalist. To these media folk, I have just one word to say: Thanks!
In the 40 years that I’ve known Christ, I’ve enjoyed several memorable encounters with atheists that encourage me to continue sharing the Gospel. I like to ask the “No God–Don’t Know God” crowd to respond to the following hypothetical.
Suppose you awaken alone in your house with its doors and windows locked to find your table set with a scrumptious breakfast awaiting you. Which explanation satisfies you? Your breakfast always existed in its present form, or your breakfast organized itself from lesser matter? Maybe the eggs, ham and cheese just evolved into an omelet, the muffin popped itself into the toaster then rolled around in the butter, the oranges squeezed each other, and there’s coffee but no Mr. Coffee.
The response is usually an ontological admission, as in, “Somebody came into my house while I was asleep and fixed breakfast,” or a simple “I don’t know.” I’m amazed at the atheists who find it easy to swallow the big bang but not the evolving breakfast.
An optometrist responded to my mention of Jesus by saying he was an atheist. I said, “Doc, you’re an intelligent man. I doubt that your ego is so big that you’re claiming you’ve been everywhere in the universe simultaneously, and you can say unequivocally that there is no God. God could be popping popcorn in the next room for all we know.” He thought a moment, and said, “You’re right. I’m not an atheist, I’m an agnostic.” To which I responded, “Agnostic means you have no knowledge of God. You’re in luck. I do.” He laughed and we shared a cordial but serious discussion about the claims of Christ. A few weeks later, I received a postcard from him on his vacation cruise in the Caribbean. He thanked me for sharing my faith and motivating him to rethink his theology.
There was the guy who proudly proclaimed, “I’m an atheist.” I said, “God loves atheists too.” He said, “Oh, God, I hope so.” “Gotcha,” was my response. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about why atheism raises more questions than it answers.”
There was the young atheist who shared my concern about the proliferation of pornography, especially its availability to children. He knew of my Christian beliefs but didn’t want to talk much about it. I prayed for him for several years. One morning, he called me from an airport in tears. I wondered why he was crying when things had been going so well for him—a better job, a bigger house and a new baby. He said, “Jan, I’m terrified of flying because I’m afraid to die.” We cut to the chase because he was about to board another plane. “You need Jesus.” I explained the Gospel in the words of the Apostle Paul, and my friend opened his heart to Christ.
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
He called later from the next airport saying that he had flown for the first time without fear. “I knew if it crashed I would be with Jesus.” Now that’s a friendly sky. My friend has grown in his faith and reminds me each year on the date of his call.
As a lawyer, I’ve spent my career studying evidence. I’m quite confident that any objective and open-minded person who seriously considers the case for the empty tomb will be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Christ is the Lord of Life as He claimed. Those who criticize the resurrection as the best explanation for the empty tomb call it an argument from silence. But all they offer are irrational arguments from silence—the body could have been exhumed, somebody stole it, He didn’t really die, or everybody went to the wrong tomb. The evidence hasn’t been effectively rebutted in more than two thousand years.
Practically speaking, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. “Nobody + nothing = everything,” doesn’t cut it. And asking me who created God is an admission of cause and effect, not a rebuttal to it. God to the second and third power won’t end the question of the closed-minded.
The fact is, if you lined up all of the smartest unbelievers on the planet, and they took their best shot, the chance of them convincing me that Jesus Christ isn’t Lord is about as good as convincing me that my mother never existed. I know “Whom I have believed” and I know why.
Christian kids are typically sent to Sunday school for lessons on the Bible and morals. For nonbelievers, there’s atheist Sunday school.
With an estimated 14 percent of Americans professing to have no religion, according to the Institute for Humanist Studies, some are choosing to send their children to classes that teach ethics without religious belief.
Bri Kneisley sent her 10-year-old son, Damian, to Camp Quest Ohio this past summer after a neighbor had shown him the Bible.
“Damian was quite certain this guy was right and was telling him this amazing truth that I had never shared,” said Kneisley, who realized her son needed to learn about secularism, according to Time magazine.
Camp Quest, also dubbed “The Secular Summer Camp,” is offered for children of atheists, freethinkers, humanists and other nonbelievers who hold to a “naturalistic, not supernatural world view,” the camp website states.
The summer camp, offered across North America and supported by the Institute for Humanist Studies, is designed to teach rational inquiry, critical thinking, scientific method, ethics, free speech, and the separation of religion and government.
Kneisley welcomes the sense of community the camp offers her son.
“He’s a child of atheist parents, and he’s not the only one in the world,” she said, according to Time.
Atheist and humanist programs are expected to pop up in such cities as Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., and Portland, Ore., and adult nonbelievers are leaning on such secular Sunday schools to help teach their kids values and how to respond to the Christian majority in the United States.
Outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins argues that teaching faith to children can be dangerous, noting the possibility of extremism.
“The point about teaching children that faith is a virtue is that you’re teaching them that you don’t have to justify what you do, you can simply shelter behind the statement ‘that’s my faith and you’re not to question that,’” he argued in a debate with Christian apologist John Lennox last month.
A recent study by Ellison Research, however, found that most Americans who attended church as a child say their past worship attendance has had a positive impact on them. The majority, including those who no longer currently attend religious services, said their attendance at church as a child gave them a good moral foundation and that they are glad they attended.
Yet today, nonbelievers want their children to participate in Sunday school the secular way.
“I’m a person that doesn’t believe in myths,” says Hana, 11, who attends the Humanist Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., according to Time. “I’d rather stick to the evidence.”
British author Phillip Pullman has publicly denied allegations that his work, including The Golden Compass which is being adapted onto the big screen, is anti-Catholic and promotes atheism.
The movie, slated for a Dec. 7 release, is based on the first book from Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, in which a young girl’s quest to uncover the reason behind her friend’s disappearance concludes with the killing of a character named God – who turns out to be a phony.
Christian groups such as the Catholic League have criticized the movie and charged the intentional removal of anti-religious themes as a ploy to encourage kids to read Pullman’s pro-atheism books.
The Catholic watchdog has even published a brochure, entitled “The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked,” as part of a PR campaign aimed to expose atheist elements of the series.
In his appearance on the “Today” show Thursday, Pullman implicitly denied that his work is selling “atheism for kids” when “Today” host Al Roker brought up the accusations made by the Catholic League.
“Well, you know, I always mistrust people who tell us how we should understand something. They know better than we do what the book means or what this means and how we should read it and whether we should read it or not,” said Pullman.
“I don’t think that’s democratic,” he continued. “I prefer to trust the reader. I prefer to trust what I call the democracy of reading – when everybody has the right to form their own opinion and read what they like and come to their own conclusion about it. So I trust the reader.”
But Pullman’s answer did little to convince Catholic League president Bill Donohue who said he was appalled that the author would continue his charade instead of directly answering to the accusations.
“The last thing Pullman trusts is the people,” Donohue said in a statement Thursday. “That is why he tries to sneak his atheism in back-door to kids. If he had any courage, he’d defend his work, but instead he continues to do what he does best – practice deceit.”
Donahue also doubted Pullman’s claims that the he just intends readers to get a “good experience of a good story,” pointing to a comment made several years ago by the writer.
“I’m trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief,” said Pullman in an article by The Washington Post, adding that C.S. Lewis, the Christian author of Chronicles of Narnia, would describe his books as the “Devil’s work.”
The Catholic League president said that he didn’t believe the organization’s booklet was “undemocratic” but was “happy to have ripped the mask off his face.”
“We at the Catholic League never had to run from our work,” added Donahue. “How pitiful it is to see a grown man slip kids his poisonous pill and then pretend he trusts the reader.”
Pullman, a self-described atheist, gave a more direct answer to concerns surrounding the anti-Church and anti-religion themes in his book while responding to a question sent in by a reader in Al’s Book Club.
Asked whether there is “an underlying message for atheism” in his book, Pullman maintained that he was only “telling a story.”
“As for the atheism, it doesn’t matter to me whether people believe in God or not, so I’m not promoting anything of that sort,” he said in an article on the “Today” show’s website.
“My point is that religion is at its best – it does most good – when it is farthest away from political power, and that when it gets hold of the power to [for example] send armies to war or to condemn people to death, or to rule every aspect of our lives, it rapidly goes bad,” said Pullman in response to a similar question.
Even though the British author has taken a more palatable approach in marketing his books as the movie date draws near, comments made in past interviews have been more indicative of his position.
In an interview with Third Way, a Christian newspaper in United Kingdom, Pullman said of the third book in his trilogy: “Of course, I don’t say, ‘There is no God.’
“I say: ‘There is a God, and here he is dying’ – and this is what I was particularly pleased with, as a result of an act of charity. And he goes ‘with a sigh of the most profound and exhausted relief.’”
When his books were released in Australia in 2003, Pullman told The Sydney Morning Herald that his “books are about killing God.”
Fans of Pullman’s work have praised his books for its clever fantasy writing but some have expressed disappointment that the anti-Church themes clearly evident in the books have been watered down or “castrated” from the movie.
Actress Nicole Kidman, reportedly a Christian, who stars along James Bond actor Daniel Craig in the film, has defended the movie as not “anti-Catholic.”
Conservative Christian groups overall have been critical of the movie and books. Evangelical group Focus on the Family is expected to release a statement about the film early this week.
One Christian apologist is telling parents to not act as though they are afraid of the anti-God trilogy from which the upcoming movie “The Golden Compass” is based.
Instead, Anthony Horvath recommends that parents do their research and be prepared to defend against any anti-Christian notions present in the His Dark Materials book series by outspoken British atheist Phillip Pullman.
“We need to learn how to keep our guard up whenever we are being ‘entertained’ and teach our children to do the same,” said Horvath, who has taught religion to middle and high school students.
“Boycotting the series gives the impression that we need to be afraid of the ideas it contains,” he added.
To give Christian parents an overview of some of the challenges posed by the Pullman’s books, Horvath has published a short guide providing basic information about the series and highlighting some of its anti-Christian themes. The one-page guide was also created to be used as a bulletin insert for churches.
“Pullman’s stories are vehicles to communicate what he thinks of the Christian church, Christian doctrines, and Christian morals. His hostility becomes explicit as the series progresses, with some of the more anti-Christian elements emerging in the later books.
“This is not a series we want to take laying down,” said Horvath.
The once-atheist apologist notes that while Christians have differing opinions over questionable messages in Harry Potter, such as the promotion of witchcraft, anti-Christian themes in Pullman’s series are indisputable.
“In the series, there is a quest to kill the Christian God – ‘a liar and a mortal,’” explained Horvath.
He warns that the anti-Christian themes may not be as evident to younger Christians.
“Pullman’s ‘God’ is nothing like God as Christians perceive Him,” said Horvath. “For this reason, one might think that the series poses no threat because any reasonably informed Christian would see the inaccuracies and the agenda behind the series in an instant.
However, the apologist asserted, “Young Christians will not be able to do that, which exposes the real issue: we need more reasonably informed young Christians.”
In recent weeks, Pullman’s series has provoked anger from Christian leaders who often describe the work as anti-God, anti-religion, or anti-Christian.
Groups such as the Catholic League have criticized the movie and charged the intentional removal of anti-religious themes as a ploy to encourage kids to read Pullman’s pro-atheism books.
Pullman publicly denied that his work promoted atheism during his appearance on Today show earlier this month.
However, the Catholic League has still not backed down from a PR campaign aimed at the exposing the pro-atheist themes of the book.
The group’s president, Bill Donahue, has also sent a letter the CEO of Scholastic Corporation, according to a news release Tuesday, asking the children’s book distributor for a pledge not to participate in any future movie production on the other two books in Pullman’s series.
“The Golden Compass” is set for a U.S. release on Dec. 7.
By Dinesh D’Souza
Richard Dawkins has a bright idea: Atheists are the new gays. Is he joking? Not at all. The bestselling author of The God Delusion has been suggesting for two years now that atheists can follow the example of gays. This would put the atheists last in the line of liberation groups: first the civil rights movement, then the feminist movement, then the gay liberation movement, and now the cause of atheist liberation.
What makes Dawkins want atheists to be like gays? Dawkins explains that gays used to be called homosexual, but then they decided to pick a positive-sounding name like “gay.” Suddenly the meaning of the term “gay” was entirely appropriated by homosexuals. Gays went from being defined by their enemies to defining themselves in a favorable way.
Dawkins cited this example in advocating that atheists call themselves “brights.” After all, atheist is a somewhat negative term because it defines itself by what it is opposed to. “Bright” sounds so much happier and, more important, smarter. “Bright” kind of reflects the high opinion that atheists have of their own intellectual abilities. Even the stupidest village atheist gets to pat himself on the back and place himself in the tradition of science and philosophy by calling himself a “bright.”
Dawkins and the philosopher Daniel Dennett have both written articles promoting the use of the term “bright.” Not all atheists have warmed to the term, but Dawkins and Dennett clearly envision themselves as far-looking strategists of the atheist cause. But how bright, really, are they?
Dawkins has also suggested that atheists, like gays, should come out of the closet. Well, what if they don’t want to? I doubt that Dawkins would support “outing” atheists. But can an atheist “rights” group be far behind? Hate crimes laws to protect atheists? Affirmative action for unbelievers? An Atheist Annual Parade, complete with dancers and floats? Atheist History Month?
Honestly, I think the whole atheist-gay analogy is quite absurd. It seems strange for Dawkins to urge atheists to come out of the closet in the style of the all-American boy standing up on the dining table of his public high school and confessing that he is a homosexual? Dawkins, being British, doesn’t seem to recognize that this would not win many popularity contests in America.
If Dawkins’ public relations skills seem lacking in this area, they are positively abysmal when they come to building support for science. Remember that Dawkins is professor of the public understanding of science. He has a chair funded by the Microsoft multimillionaire Charles Simonyi. If I were that guy, I’d withdraw the support, not because I disagree with Dawkins, but because I think he is setting back the cause of science.
Basically Dawkins is saying if you are religious, then science is your enemy. Either you choose God or you choose science. No wonder that so many Americans say they are opposed to evolution. They believe that evolution is atheism masquerading as science, and Dawkins confirms their suspicions. Indeed Dawkins takes the same position as the most ignorant fundamentalist: you can have Darwin or you can have the Bible but you can’t have both.
Dawkins is in some ways a terrible representative for atheism, which I’m glad about because a bad cause deserves a bad leader. He is also a terrible advocate for science, which I’m sad about because science deserves all the support it can get.
Having debated Christopher Hitchens, I’d like the opportunity to debate Dawkins. I think I can vindicate a rational and scientific argument for religion against his irrational and unscientific prejudice. When I wrote Dawkins to propose such a debate, however, Dawkins said that “upon reflection” he decided against it. He didn’t give a reason, and there is no reason.
In his writings on religion, Dawkins presents atheism as the side of reason and evidence, and religion as the side of “blind faith.” So what’s he afraid of? How can reason possibly lose in a contest with ignorance and superstition? I have written Dawkins back offering him the most favorable terms: a debate on a secular campus like Berkeley rather than a church, with atheist Michael Shermer as the moderator, and a donor ready and willing to pay both our fees.
So I hope Dawkins takes me up on my challenge to an intellectual joust. If you want to encourage him, write Dawkins and send the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll forward your thoughts to our wavering atheist knight. He may want to pattern atheism on the gay rights movement, but surely he doesn’t want the world to think that he’s a sissy. [KH: !!!]
Some of the most prominent evangelical leaders and Christian apologists recently addressed thousands of believers amid a trend of atheist outspokenness.
“Let’s face it: Atheism is in,” Stan Guthrie wrote in Tuesday’s column in Christianity Today magazine.
But arising to disprove atheist claims are not just Christian arguments of faith or citations from Scripture, but evidence.
“We have a defensible faith that stands up to scrutiny and investigation,” said Lee Strobel, a former atheist and author of the bestselling book The Case for Christ.
Lee was a featured speaker at this year’s National Conference on Christian Apologetics, held Nov. 9-10 at Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C. The annual conference, presented by Southern Evangelical Seminary, came as America has been experiencing a surge in attacks against religion – more specifically, Christianity.
In recent years, books on atheism have hit best-selling lists and the authors have gained prominence across the country.
The louder voice that has emerged among atheists, however, has not gone unchallenged.
“There’s a phenomenon going on right now,” Strobel said, according to The Charlotte Observer. “In response to this proliferation of attacks on Christianity that we’re seeing in best-selling books and on the Internet, there’s a new hunger in the church for apologetics – that is, defending the faith.”
Churches are now finding a need to equip Christians with rebuttals and answers that go beyond an acceptance of the authority of Scripture. In response, Christian apologists are filling the void, teaching a language anchored in reason and science.
And if the Church wants to keep the younger generation, Christian leaders should start stressing evidence and proof, as one 17-year-old suggested.
“We’ve grown up in a place and a time where everything can be proven,” Emily Koll, a member of Calvary Church, told the local newspaper. “And then, all of a sudden, with God, you have to take a leap of faith. We’re not used to that. It’s outside our comfort zone.”
Nearly 4,000 people convened at Calvary this past weekend to hear speakers like Strobel and Charles Colson talk about apologetics.
But before even diving in to the proof, Colson said it was time Christians define Christianity, which culture, popular media and atheists have apparently done.
“What is Christianity?” Colson posed at the conference.
“Christianity is an explanation of everything,” he said.
It’s not just about morality, getting saved or being part of some religious group. And it’s much more than a relationship with Jesus, he told The Charlotte Observer.
Christianity, essentially, gives an explanation for all of the great questions of life such as ‘What is truth and justice?’ ‘Why do we exist and where did we come from?’ and ‘Where are we headed?’” said Tom Gilson, who attended the conference, about Colson’s talk.
“The Bible does not speak directly to every question,” Gilson wrote on his blog, ThinkingChristian.net. “Yet Biblical principles apply to all of life, as explanations of what the world and life are about, and as guidance for all that we do. Too many of us compartmentalize Christianity into some ‘religious’ sphere. But God is King of all.”
With the atheist argument becoming more aggressive, one theologian says Christians need to deal with it and stand up to it.
“[I]f people look at science, they will find faith and they will find reason; the two cannot be incompatible and they have one author, namely God,” said Midland theologian Norbert Dickman, who was scheduled to present what the Christian response should be to the rise of the atheist voice at an Illinois church on Tuesday.
The recent National Conference on Christian Apologetics was designed to equip individuals to “win the battle” of other worldviews in addition to atheism.
By Dinesh D’Souza
Imagine if one of the world’s leading Christians—say C.S. Lewis a generation ago, or Billy Graham now—were to reject his religious beliefs and become a atheist. It would be big news! The New York Times would be all over it, for sure, and the question would be why a man who has devoted his life to God would now turn against Him? In sum, the focus would be on what were the reasons for the conversion and on what’s so bad about Christianity.
Contrast this with the New York Times’ approach to the conversion of philosopher Anthony Flew. Flew has been, for the past half-century, the world’s leading advocate of atheism. His works such as Theology and Falsification and The Presumption of Atheism were considered classics of theist thought. No one has so relentlessly espoused the atheist cause, and no one has been more anthologized and eulogized by the atheist community. Other twentieth-century philosophers, such as Martin Heidegger and Bertrand Russell, were unbelievers but they did not make atheism central to their philosophical work as did Flew. Flew’s atheism long precedes that of latecomers like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens.
Now, in his early eighties, Flew has rejected atheism and said he believes that God exists. He does not espouse the Christian God, but calls himself a Deist. He says he has a lifelong commitment to following the evidence where it leads, and that new advances in the sciences have shown him that materialism and Darwinism simply cannot account for the world as it is and life as it is. Examining the fine-tuning of the universe and the mind-boggling complexity of the cell (a compexity that evolution presumes but cannot explain), Flew now believes that the design of the universe requires a designer. He gives his reasons in a new book There Is a God which is co-authored with Roy Abraham Varghese.
In the book, Flew uses simple analogies to expose atheist illogic. For instance, leading atheists seek to prove that the mind is no more than the brain. If the brain is destroyed, they say, we can’t use our minds. Therefore there is nothing to minds excerpt circuits and neurons. Flew gives the example of a child raised on a remote island who finds a satellite phone. Voices come out of the machine. The child recognizes these voices as human and is thrilled by the discovery that she has found a way to interact with other humans. Perhaps there is life outside the island!
Then the elders of the tribe (if I may embellish Flew’s account, let’s call them Big Chief Dawkins, Grand Pooh Bah Dennett, and Witch Doctor Pinker) scorn the child and say, “Look, when we damage the instrument, the voices stop. So they’re obviously nothing more than sounds produced by the unique combination of metals and circuit boards. Forget about learning about other humans. From all the evidence we have, we are the only living creatures on earth. So go back to making sandcastles.” Who are the real dummies here?
When a major figure like Flew switches sides, the New York Times goes into mafia-style intellectual hit mode. They selected Mark Oppenheimer of Yale, who visited Flew in England and wrote a long article in the November 4, 2007 New York Times Magazine suggesting that Flew converted because he is, well, senile. The basic idea is that Flew has lost his mind and can’t remember anything, and when Christian apologists like Varghese were nice to him Flew basically surrendered to them and let them write his book.
The only evidence that Flew has lost his mind is that he’s 84 years old. A man of 84 naturally loses some of his memory, especially for names, but this does not mean he has lost his marbles. Flew’s own writings of the past few years are all entirely coherent and employ sophisticated philosophical vocabulary. While Flew seems to have asked his collaborator Varghese to write a draft of his life story, it was Flew who reviewed and approved the final contents. There is nothing in the Times’ article that shows Flew to be incapable of a reasoned change of mind and heart.
I realize that atheists—including those at the New York Times—are embarassed at having to surrender one of their most stalwart champions to theism. Maybe they too should consider following the evidence where it leads? Too closed-minded to consider Flew’s arguments, these fellows would much rather belittle the intellectual capacity of the man they once revered. Hell hath no fury like an atheist scorned.
In the months before World War II, an Oxford don by the name of C. S. Lewis wrote, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” Lewis’s students questioned the importance of studying the humanities and sciences with war on the horizon. But Lewis understood, as he wrote so beautifully in his classic book Weight of Glory, that “To be ignorant and simple now . . . would be to throw down our weapons and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.”
Four years ago, I launched a distance-learning and networking program called the Centurions Program. It is designed to equip Christians to understand and defend the truth in every area of life and culture.
Sadly, bad philosophy—like relativism, naturalism, and secular humanism—runs rampant in our legislatures, schools, movie theaters, and even our churches. In the face of this, Centurions is preparing men and women not just to understand and articulate their own Christian worldview, but also to proactively teach others to be able to do so and engage the culture in every sphere of influence.
One of our Centurions graduates, Fritz Kling, has begun a Christian Leadership Institute for civic and business leaders in Richmond, Virginia. Fritz says, “My [Centurions] experience exposed me to a model for developing talented leaders. I will tell you, though, that such programs are fairly common in the U.S. But Centurions constantly pushed me to initiate and innovate—to be fairly audacious in believing that I could (and indeed should) start things.”
Fritz underscores exactly the vision we have for the program: one of exponential cultural impact.
And we have plenty of examples of Centurions doing just that: from Bill Peel in Dallas, who is equipping Christian Medical and Dental Association affiliates to view medical ethics and issues from a biblical perspective; to Stephen Dunson in West Texas, who is teaching a 12-week worldview course in a Texas prison. Then there is James Biersteker, in Ontario, Canada, who is starting a worldview academy for public high school students.
But not only are Centurions sharing the training they have received, they are also impacting the culture firsthand. Take Jim Walter, who is chairing a church committee that is reaching out to the community’s homeless, drug addicts, and ex-prisoners. Or Bonnie Crogan-Mazur and Tom Bulling, who are involved in teaching and hands-on ministry on Indian reservations. There’s Al Van Horne in New York, who is developing micro-enterprise projects to help the poor both here and overseas. And there are artists, writers, and filmmakers like Tom Hall, Jeanne Dennis, Phyllis Hammerstrom, and Greg Bandy, who incorporate Christian worldview themes and messages into their handiwork.
If you would like to find out more about how you can join the ranks of the next class of Centurions, please visit us at www.breakpoint.org. Our culture urgently needs more men and women who will rightly wield good philosophy to counter the bad philosophy of the postmodern era: men and women who can winsomely present the Christian worldview in their sphere of influence.
By Mike S. Adams
It has been some time since I recommended books to my readers. Since many will begin Christmas shopping soon (or have already) I thought I would respond today with some recommendations. Here are four books I did not enjoy and four that I think offer good rebuttals:
1. God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens. [KH: atheist]
Darryl Sharratt reads a U. S. Marine Corp press release that details the murder charge against his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, prior to a briefing at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Thursday Dec. 21, 2006. Lance Cpl. Sharratt is charged with murder in the death of Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha in 2005. Sharratt’s mother, Theresa, and sister, Jaclyn, look on as Sharratt’s father reads the charges that evolve eight Marines in all. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi).
I read this book after I found out it was required reading next semester in our Sociology of Religion course at UNC-Wilmington. I want to see whether it was sociological or even scientific. It is neither. This anti-religious screed is a highly prejudicial selection of bad things done in the name of religion, which seeks nothing more than to get the reader to adopt atheism. A better sub-title would have been “How Bad People Sometimes Poison Religion.”
Nonetheless, I recommend the book because it reminds me of what a miserable person I used to be as an atheist. I also believe that Hitchens’ attack on Mother Teresa irreparably harms his credibility.
2. Come Be My Light, by Mother Teresa.
I read this book right after reading Hitchens’ book. It is an inspirational account of a wonderful life and a strong rebuttal to those who would see religion as a crutch. Christianity is a tough religion. No wonder so many, like Christopher Hitchens, are unwilling even to concede that Christ was a real historical figure. After reading this book, consider what the world would be like if we all chose atheism. Would you rather live among six billion Christopher Hitchens or among six billion Mother Teresas?
3. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. [KH: atheist]
The final sentence of Chapter One of this book reads: “I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently than I would handle anything else.”
The next sentence of the book reads: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character of all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
[KH: He will have to answer this on Judgment Day.]
Interestingly, I made a decision that all people are created equal after reading the epistles of Paul of Tarsus. I am often curious as to which source the atheist relies on to draw the same conclusion. Is it possible that we (Christians) have taught the atheists the very principles they use to condemn us?
I also wonder how one who considers himself to be the product of random mutation simultaneously believes that he is morally superior to others? If I win the lottery and you lose, I may be luckier than you. But how am I morally superior to you?
4. The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister and Joanna McGrath. [KH: against atheist]
My favorite part of this book is the reprint of the first sentence of Chapter Two of Dawkins’ book. The McGraths rebut each and every accusation with Old Testament Scripture. I also am pleased that they are much more respectful towards Dawkins than he is towards them - and to Christians in general.
5. Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dupner.
This book has raised quite a stink with its assertion that legalizing abortion in the 1970s greatly reduced crime on the 1990s. The book also makes claims about the effects of right-to-carry laws on crime rates, which are contrary to what I have been saying in speeches on college campuses including Ohio University and, more recently, Bucknell University. Nonetheless, I always encourage my readers to seek contrary opinions.
6. Freedomnomics, by John R. Lott, Jr.
In this enjoyable book, Lott offers an intriguing argument about the true effects the 1973 “Roe” decision has had on crime. This argument alone makes the book well worth the purchase price. But Lott also offers a strong rebuttal to the assertion that right-to-carry laws have not reduced crime. Levitt and Dupner suggest that Lott may have fabricated data and that there has been a widespread inability of others to replicate his results. But, why then, are there more refereed studies (fifteen) showing that CCWs reduce homicide rates than refereed studies (ten) showing no effect? And why are there no (exactly zero) refereed studies showing the CCWs are increasing homicide rates? Was that not the principal argument against right-to-carry laws in the first place?
Lott also makes a strong case for the deterrent effect of the death penalty, which is causing this lifelong abolitionist to reconsider his position.
7. Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris. [KH: atheist]
There are two types of opponents to Christianity - those who misunderstand Christianity and those who understand but misrepresent Christianity. Sam Harris is in the latter group. Harris intentionally lumps “old world” creationism with “new world” creationism in an attempt to falsely portray Christians as opponents of science. He also lumps adult stem cell research (responsible for curing 73 diseases) with embryonic stem cell research (responsible for curing zero diseases) in an effort to make Christians appear to besadistic in their supposed opposition to science.
I want everyone to read Harris’ book to get a good glimpse at the depth of his intellectual dishonesty and his anti-religious bigotry.
8. What’s So Great About Christianity, by Dinesh D’Souza. [KH: against atheist]
Dinesh offers a brilliant rebuttal to the likes of Harris (and Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins). If you did not see D’Souza destroy Hitchens in a recent CSPAN debate, please take the time to read this great book. It is one of the finest Christian apologetics since “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis.
Peter W. Rosenberger
A national weekly news magazine recently featured a debate between atheist/author Sam Harris and author/pastor Rick Warren (“The Purpose Driven Life”). As part of his debate, Mr. Harris threw down a challenge to prove God’s existence by finding a deserving amputee and having 1 billion people pray for God to grow the leg back. In trying to disprove the existence of God, it’s unclear why Mr. Harris chooses to focus on amputees growing limbs back rather than looking for a sea to split open or fish and loaves to multiply, and it’s equally unclear why Harris specifically asked that it be a “leg” amputee versus an “arm” amputee. Nevertheless, that was the challenge.
A few weeks ago, C-Span featured a speech given at the annual meeting for American Atheists by a former “Saturday Night Live” actress. This group gave her a standing ovation and even presented her with a special plaque to honor her courage as an “atheist celebrity.” The actress joked, “There is evidence for God, just not very good evidence.” The audience was shown patting themselves on the back, laughing, applauding and apparently reveling in their ability to declare, “There is no God.” Days later, on CBS’ “Sunday Morning,” the same group was featured, along with the same actress, again celebrating the “joys of atheism.” Once more, the interview brought up the “amputee challenge” of Mr. Harris.
My wife of 21 years, Gracie, is a double-amputee (both legs), and our organization, Standing With Hope, is, to our knowledge, the only evangelical prosthetic limb outreach in the world. We travel to West Africa and work with the government of Ghana to train and equip their workers on building high-quality prosthetic legs. Gracie’s definition of high quality is summed up in her statement, “I will not place a leg on someone that I am not willing to wear myself.” It is hoped that Mr. Harris will agree that Gracie, who has undergone 70 operations and still finds the will and ability to help others struggling with limb loss, is a suitable “deserving” candidate for his challenge.
Atheists seem to insinuate that the ministry and comfort my family depends on, and shares with individuals across the country and overseas, is misguided and only a mirage. It is interesting to note that this group seems to take greater issue with the God of the Bible and Christian faith than with other world religions. They don’t seem to put the Muslim faith to the test with the same sarcasm they save for Christianity.
According to this group, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, King David, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus were deceived at best, or liars at worst. Of Jesus’ remaining 11 disciples, 10 of them, and eventually the Apostle Paul, were tortured, beaten and died horrible deaths, without ever renouncing the resurrection. There are Islamic extremists who allow themselves to be killed, but they believe in their cause. The disciples were in a position to know whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead.
His crucifixion is a matter of history (so is His resurrection). One simple question for atheist is: If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then why did the disciples allow themselves to be killed so horribly?
Conspirators at Enron wouldn’t even face jail time without turning on each other. Michael Vick is going to jail because his friends turned on him over a dog-fighting ring. I have never heard of anyone willingly enduring torture or execution for a lie they perpetuated. If one of the disciples recanted, maybe history would have a case. But they all went to their deaths (skinned alive, crucifixion, sawn in two, beheaded) praising Jesus Christ. According to American Atheists, all of those disciples were wrong.
These atheists seem to suggest that they are more enlightened than every rabbi, pope, priest, Martin Luther, the Founding Fathers, Isaac Newton, John Milton, Billy Graham, C. S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Queen Elizabeth and billions of others. One prominent atheist went a step further to suggest that if Mother Teresa had been an atheist, her deeds would have been “more noble,” since she wouldn’t have been doing them with the thought of an afterlife as a reward. (You can’t make this up; this is actually what they are saying.)
It appears atheists can claim an exhaustive investigation into the entire universe that leaves them with the overwhelming evidence that ...we are here by random chance. There are forests and whole stretches of land across the United States that haven’t been totally explored, but atheist can lay back the entire cosmos with complete conviction that since a deserving amputee didn’t grow a leg back, then, therefore, no deity exists.
To the atheists so concerned about amputees, it is difficult to understand why a good and loving God hasn’t made Gracie’s legs grow back.
That difficulty in understanding seemed to be part of the platform that led American Atheists to applaud an actress for having the courage to proclaim her conviction that “God doesn’t exist.” But while atheists applaud mocking comments about people of faith, amputees in Ghana are walking, going to school and taking care of their families – all because Gracie’s courage – as an amputee – to proclaim her conviction that, “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
By Phyllis Schlafly
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 4 will again hear a challenge by Michael Newdow to the Pledge of Allegiance and its phrase “under God.” Newdow won his prior lawsuit against the pledge until the Supreme Court, perhaps to avoid public outrage in the 2004 presidential election year, tossed out his case on a procedural technicality.
Newdow’s first case caused a national uproar when he initially prevailed, but Congress failed to seize the day by withdrawing jurisdiction from the courts over this issue. Instead, Congress took away jurisdiction from courts over lawsuits against gun manufacturers and, at the urging of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., over lawsuits by environmentalists against clearing brush in South Dakota.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is notoriously hostile to religion, so it could give us another anti-pledge decision. Atheism has spread in influence to where it controls many federal courts, many public schools, and now even Hollywood, with the atheistic movie “The Golden Compass” promoted for Christmastime entertainment.
Classical music with religious names was banned at graduation by Everett School District No. 2 in Washington state. The school ordered that only “secular” music would be allowed even though there were no lyrics or words spoken, and a federal court held against the students.
Judge Robert S. Lasnik, who was appointed to the bench by former President Bill Clinton in 1998, wrote the decision. Lasnik was the same judge who struck down a Washington state law banning video games that demonstrated how to kill policemen and wrote in his decision that violent video games are “as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature.”
The intolerance of atheists and their allies has now placed the “best of” music off limits to public school performers. Goodbye to many of the great works of Bach, Haydn, Handel, Beethoven and Mozart.
It is not only courts on the West Coast that are promoting atheism. In New Jersey, an award-winning high school football coach, Marcus Borden, was ordered in 2005 by his intolerant school district not to bow his head or “take a knee” during any player-initiated prayers. Borden resigned from coaching in October over the issue.
This case illustrates how atheism in schools is often censorship in disguise. First the school district censored Borden from prayer with his players, and then censored even his silent gestures.
He sued and the trial judge ruled in his favor. But school officials and their allies were relentless and have appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
These are not isolated cases: In Nevada, censors pulled the plug of the microphone in the middle of the high school valedictorian’s speech when she mentioned her Christian faith; in Virginia, a high school removed from a bulletin board materials posted by a teacher because they included reference to a day of prayer; in Chicago, a federal judge enjoined the state superintendent from enforcing a new law requiring a moment of silence in Illinois schools.
Atheism has been growing ever since the U.S. Supreme Court censored school prayer in Engel v. Vitale in 1962. That decision failed to cite a single precedent as authority.
The high court held decades ago that free speech includes prayer, yet lower courts continue to drive it from public places. In Faith Center v. Glover, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the exclusion of a Christian group from using a public library because some aspects of the group’s speech might be described as worship.
Panel member Judge Lawrence Karlton, who was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter nearly 30 years ago, ridiculed the Supreme Court by claiming there is a “sorry state of the law” in not censoring more religious speech (like “under God”) and that he will “pray for the court’s enlightenment” to rule further against religion.
That decision, including the ridicule, seemed perfect for the Supreme Court to overturn with a strong message to deter disrespectful lower courts, but it declined. A Supreme Court that hears only 75 cases a year and ducks the big ones cannot end the havoc wrought by more than 100 lower courts rendering perhaps 1,000 times as many decisions.
Luckily, a rare Supreme Court decision last term written by Justice Samuel B. Alito was used by an appellate court to dismiss a lawsuit against prayer in the Indiana legislature. Four months after Alito’s decision dismissing on standing grounds a challenge to President George W. Bush’s faith-based programs, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on it to dismiss a challenge to prayer in Indiana in Hinrichs v. Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Earlier, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also dismissed on standing grounds an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit attempting to prevent the Boy Scouts of America from holding their jamboree on military property. The results in these cases point the way for Congress to save the Pledge of Allegiance:
Withdraw jurisdiction from the courts over acknowledgment-of-God cases by passing the We the People Act, or H.R. 300.
By Dinesh D’Souza
On Friday, November 30, I debated philosopher Daniel Dennett at Tufts University on the topic, “Is God a Man-Made Invention?” This was my third debate against a leading atheist, following my debate with Michael Shermer at Oregon State University and my debate with Christopher Hitchens at the Ethical Culture Society in New York. The auditorium at Tufts filled up so quickly prior to the Dennett debate that the organizers had to have a second overflow room where viewers could watch the fireworks on a big-screen TV.
Do you want to watch the debate? Go to Youtube.com and search for the “Dennett D’Souza debate.” My earlier debates with Shermer and Hitchens are also online. You can find the Hitchens debate at dineshdsouza.com or isi.org.
Dennett surprised me a little by showing up with a power-point presentation. I hadn’t agreed to this in advance, but I didn’t object. I thought to myself, “I’m not sure what advantage slides are going to give him in a format like this one.” Dennett spoke first for 25 minutes, and sure enough, he made full use of those slides. He had quotations from me up there, and he challenged me to defend them. I was impressed by Dennett’s preparation, and also by his avulcular “grandpa” style, an effect enhanced by his white Santa beard. Atheism is a grim philosophy, but Dennett more than anyone else makes it seem harmless and even charming.
Normally I would use my opening statement entirely to make the case for God’s existence. But I didn’t want Dennett’s allegations to go unrebutted for too long. So I devoted the first five minutes to puncturing some factual and historical holes in Dennett’s argument. Then I proceeded to make my case. Of course I conceded that religion is a man-made invention, but I argued that modern science has over the past century produced remarkable discoveries that affirm and support the argument for God’s existence. In doing so I recognized that I was challenging Dennett not only on his home campus, Tufts university, but also on his home turf, which is a philosophical atheism rooted in science.
We each had two five-minute rebuttals which produced lively exchanges about the Big Bang and about whether the universe is fine-tuned for life. When I challenged Dennett’s interpretation of evolution, he charged me with simplifying and “caricaturing” his views. Some degree of simplification is unavoidable in debate, because there simply isn’t enough time to address arguments with all their nuances. This criticism, however, applies to both sides. I countered Dennett by saying that I wasn’t the only one to question his use and abuse of Darwin.
I made my point by citing the late Stephen Jay Gould’s review-essay on Dennett in the June 12, 1997 New York Review of Books. Unlike Dennett, who is a philosopher, Gould was one of the world’s leading authorities on evolution. One can feel safe in saying that he knew a lot more about the biological evidence for Darwinism than Dennett. And Gould was an unbeliever, like Dennett.
So I noted how significant it was that Gould dubbed Dennett a “Darwinian fundamentalist.” He suggested that just as religious fundamentalists read Scripture in a literal and pig-headed way, and unimaginatively apply biblical passages to everything, so Dennett tries to apply Darwinism to virtually every human social, cultural and religious practice, with disastrous and even comical results. Gould termed Dennett’s work on evolution “a caricature of a caricature.”
Finally there was a lengthy question-and-answer session. Given that the audience was mostly made up of Tufts students sympathetic to Dennett’s atheism, a majority of the questions was directed at me. Most memorable for me was the philosophically-minded savant who pooh-poohed the possibility of God’s existence on the basis of what he called the Principle of Parsimony. He argued that either propositions are true by definition, or they are true by empirical verification. If a proposition cannot satisfy either criteria, then it is meaningless. Since God does not exist by definition, the young man insisted, and since we cannot verify His presence empirically, clearly God has been refuted by the Principle of Parsimony.
I asked our undergraduate savant to apply his twofold test to the Principle of Parsimony itself. Is it true by definition? No. Well, can it be verified empirically? Again, no. Therefore by the student’s own criteria the Principle of Parismony is worthless and can be cast aside. The student had no comeback to this and neither did Dennett.
So who won the debate? That’s for you to decide. But I’d like to know your assessment. Go ahead and post it here, and also email me at email@example.com.
Pope Benedict XVI has strongly criticized atheism and blamed it for bringing about the “greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” ever known in history.
In the second encyclical of his papacy, the head of the world’s one billion Catholics also criticized modern-day Christianity, saying its focus on individual salvation had ignored Jesus’ message that true Christian hope involves salvation for all.
In the 76-page document titled “Spe Salvi,” or “Saved by Hope,” Benedict said that many people rejected religious faith because they no longer found the prospect of an eternal after-life attractive.
Instead, they had put their faith in human reason and freedom in the hope that the “kingdom of man” would emerge.
In his scholarly analysis, the 81-year-old pontiff said that these ideas had originated during two periods of political upheaval – the French and Communist revolutions.
While Benedict came down heavily on Karl Marx and the 19th and 20th century atheism spawned by his revolution, the pope acknowledged that both were responding to the deep injustices of the time.
Marxism, Benedict wrote, had left behind “a trail of appalling destruction” because it failed to realize that man could not be “merely the product of economic conditions.” For man to be redeemed, he also needs God’s unconditional love.
“It is no accident that this idea (Marxism/Atheism) has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice, rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim”, he wrote. “A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope.”
Benedict also cited Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, and the “intermediate phase” of dictatorship that Marx saw as necessary in the revolution.
“This ‘intermediate phase’ we know all too well, and we also know how it then developed, not ushering in a perfect world, but leaving behind a trail of appalling destruction,” the pope wrote.
Commenting on the pope’s latest encyclical, Monsignor Robert Wister, professor of church history at Seton Hall University in the United States, explained that the pope’s concern “is that you have secularizing forces that are trying to eliminate religion from public and private life.”
“In most countries, political Marxism is dead [but] philosophical Marxism is very much alive and it fuels the secularizing philosophy often seen in Europe and North America,” Wister said, according to the Associated Press.
At the same time, Benedict also looked critically at the way modern Christianity had responded to the times, saying such a “self-critique” was also necessary.
“We must acknowledge that modern Christianity, faced with the successes of science in progressively structuring the world, has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation,” the pope wrote. “In doing so, it has limited the horizon of its hope and has failed to recognize sufficiently the greatness of its task.”
The Christian concept of hope and salvation, the pontiff stated, was not always so individual-centric.
Quoting scripture and theologians, Benedict said salvation had in the earlier church been considered “communal” — illustrating his point by using the case of monks in the Middle Ages who cloistered themselves in prayer not just for their own salvation but for that of others.
“How could the idea have developed that Jesus’ message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly? How did we arrive at this interpretation of the ‘salvation of the soul’ as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?” he asked.
While seeking to provide answers, the pope said there are ways for the faithful to learn and practice true Christian hope – in prayer, in suffering, in taking action and in looking at the Last Judgment as a symbol of hope.
“Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that He does so. The image of the Last Judgment is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love. God is justice and creates justice.”
The first encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI was “God is Love,” released last year. The third one is expected to be on “Faith,” as it will complete the three Christian theological virtues – faith, hope and love.
For the first week of Advent, when the Christian calendar begins a New Year, one month before the secular calendar, the very learned and intelligent Pope Benedict XVI sent round a Letter on Hope, as the greatest gift Jewish and Christian faiths brought into Western (and now universal) history. The expectation of a future better than the past. The knowledge that the Creator of all things has invited human beings into His friendship, not by coercion but by their own free will. This gift is better than any other on earth.
Recently, I visited the website of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, to listen to a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza on atheism. This is the first debate that I have ever heard Christopher lose. In it, I heard Christopher describe his own view of the world, which may be abbreviated as follows: It was just 100,000 years ago that humans finally appeared on this planet. On average, these poor creatures died by age 25, and suffered (often horribly) from disease, earthquake, flood, famine, and cyclones — not to mention murder and warfare. Only after some 96,000 years does Jewish history begin, and only after some 98,000 years does Christian “salvation” come. For all those thousands of years the Creator/Designer left human beings to suffer. Then, even after Judaism and Christianity arrive, the suffering continues almost unabated. In addition, these poor human beings are badly designed. They have developed too much adrenaline, and the frontal lobes of their brains are too small. All these together leave humans in a bleak condition in a bleak world, and with very little hope. Who is responsible for this bad design? Hitchens blames the Creator.
Benedict addresses these two points and many others. Benedict agrees that the condition of humans before the Jewish and Christian news of God’s intentions was as bleak as Hitchens says. The idea of progress was not present in consciousness. The idea had not yet been born that the Creator is a Person of goodness, reason, and friendship, especially disposed to those creatures He created free (as Jefferson noted). And that God wanted to invite humans into His friendship. The idea that each human is free in his individual conscience — not the conscience solely of city, tribe, or even family — had not been introduced. The idea that the human mind is proportioned to the world as it is, and capable, in the image of the Creator, of creating new inventions, discoveries, and means of progress in history, had not yet been grasped by the mind of humans.
Yet, Benedict notes, there is still more than this. Even the human capacity for invention and technological progress, we find, is not a consistent bearer of hope. Humans remain both free and also drawn to self-love, arrogance of power, irrational ambitions, and moral decadence (see Federalist 6). Thus, at any time even instruments of great good can be turned into instruments of unparalleled evil. Of this we had much evidence during the 20th century.
But humans need a reason to hope for justice, truth, and love. They need a reason to go on. In dire circumstances, this reason must be able to count on more than the human capacity to deliver. For the reality is that all human beings suffer from deficiencies and evils of all kinds. Yet the horrific evils that millions experienced in the last hundred years required more than logic, science, and crazy utopian ideas. Hitchens and others are free to accept or to reject the hope that Judaism and Christianity implant in the souls of many. The fact is that this Jewish and Christian hope, once it became the driving force of Mediterranean and European civilization, produced an unrivaled and enduring burst of optimism, inquiry, and stunning progress.
The atheism of the last two centuries, Benedict observes, is distinctive in its moralism. It chooses the pretense of being more moral than the Creator of all things. It holds that the Creator ought to have come up with a better design. They would have done it more brilliantly. Brave new world, and all.
Judaism and Christianity have the advantage of dealing with the world as it is. They take it with all its hurt and folly, stupidity and egotism, natural disasters and disasters by human hands. Both faiths prepare their daughters and sons to face a vale of tears, to meet much suffering equably, to keep their hopes unbroken no matter what, and to show courage worthy of the children of the True God. For both faiths, suffering is an irremovable fact of life. Nonetheless, suffering may be alleviated by tender care for the poor and the ill, and suffering can transform human beings from empty suits to practitioners of heroic service to others. Judaism and Christianity have given hundreds of millions of human beings–in the Socratic word — “chest.”
Since both the light of reason and the light of faith emanate from the same Source, the intelligent Creator of all things and would-be Friend of His conscious creatures, they cannot in principle contradict one another. If they appear to do so, either those using reason or those using faith are making mistakes, and need to go back to see where the errors arose. This very check-and-balance — this creative rivalry — sparks a remarkable thrust forward at the heart of our culture.
Hope, an overriding confidence in betterment (personal and communal), is a powerful driving force. Even many who claim to be atheists retain at least this gift from the infusion of Judaism and Christianity into the heart of our culture.
Benedict praises atheists for many of their intentions and achievements. He points to experiences the human race has endured in our time to call attention to the inadequacies of atheism. He proposes what billions have found a more promising path.
Those of us who hoped for the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy, and predicted it early in the conclave, now have in this encyclical on Hope, and his earlier letter on Caritas, more than enough to fulfill our high expectations. Both “letters to the world” confront central crises of our time, for whose solution nihilism, relativism, and atheism provide far too little help.
By Dinesh D’Souza
If you haven’t seen my “God v. Atheism” debate with philosopher Daniel Dennett, you can view it at Tothesource.org. You should read the comments in response to the debate both on my AOL blog as well as on the atheist site richarddawkins.net. From the atheists you hear statements like this: “D’Souza is a goddamned idiot.” “Odious little toad.” “D’Souza is full of s**t.” “A smug, joyless twit.” “Total moron.” “Little turd.” “Two-faced liar.” Etc, etc. Now admittedly the topic of God v. atheism can be an emotional one, but you will find no comparable invective on the Christian side. Why then are so many atheists so angry?
One reason I think is that they are God-haters. Atheists often like to portray themselves as “unbelievers” but this is not strictly accurate. If they were mere unbelievers they would simply live their lives as if God did not exist. I don’t believe in unicorns, but then I haven’t written any books called The End of Unicorns, Unicorns are Not Great, or The Unicorn Delusion. Clearly the atheists go beyond disbelief; they are on the warpath against God. And you can hear their bitterness not only in their book titles but also in their mean-spirited invective.
Here is a second reason the atheists sound so angry. They are not used to having their sophistries exposed. For the past three years the new atheists have had a virtually free ride. Dawkins and Hitchens make outrageous claims (“religion poisons everything”) and media pundits like Lou Dobbs and Tim Russert fawn all over them. But in the past few months I’ve been meeting the leading atheist spokesmen in open debate, and challenging them on the basis of the same reason and science and evidence that they say vindicates their claims.
After my first debate with Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, several atheists on Dawkins’ site said, “Well, D’Souza won that debate, but wait till he meets Hitchens. Hitchens will wipe the floor with him. D’Souza RIP.” Then after I debated Hitchens the atheists said, “Oh no, this one didn’t go as planned. Hitchens didn’t do so well.” Another commented that atheists could not afford to lose two in a row. Even so, one atheist hopefully noted that Hitchens was not the right guy to debate me; rather, Daniel Dennett has the scholarly weight to do the job.
Now after my Dennett debate, what’s the verdict? Well, the audience was full of Dennett supporters who began with enthusiastic applause for him but, as the debate went on, fell largely silent. Several came up to me afterward and told me that I had won. Dennett himself seemed dispirited after the event. Even so, when I posted the debate on my blog, the atheists went into damage control mode. The debate was instantly posted on atheist sites, and atheists rushed to my AOL blog to vote Dennett the winner. This effort gave atheists an early lead, but when the votes were tallied I was the victor. Interestingly my margin of victory was even bigger than that for the resolution, suggesting that several people voted that “God Is a Man-Made Invention” and still thought I won the debate.
A good way to assess a debate is to see what the partisans on each side say. Among Christians the verdict is unanimous. Here’s a sample comment from a Townhall reader: “My heart went out to Professor Dennett because he was so totally over-matched in this debate You totally demolished him as you have the other atheists you have debated.” But all you have to do is to go to atheist sites to see that many atheists also think that I won, although this is sometimes very grudgingly admitted.
Here is a sampling of comments that I’ve taken from richarddawkins.net. “I was at the debate and thought Dennett did not prove his point.” “I’m so tired of these D’Souza debates. The more people we send his way the larger his smile grows.” “I feel such debates should stop.” “I love Dennett’s ideas about atheism but I do think he handled this debate poorly against Dinesh.” “Ok, Dennett sucked...Dennett’s type of responses just made him look like an ass.” “Dinesh is an amazingly talented orator, considering how hopeless a case he is arguing.” “Hitchens has had a shot, as has Dennett, and neither has succeeded in demolishing D’Souza. D’Souza has a very effective debating technique. Not only did a lot of atheists get up and fire straw-man arguments at D’Souza that he was easily able to counter and make them look foolish, but Dennett...lost his composure and his train of thought.” “Let’s face it, this guy has taken our best shots and still come out looking good. Maddening.”
So where does this leave the atheists? These guys now seem to be 0-3. Some of the blog posters on Dawkins’ site are calling on Sam Harris and Dawkins himself to step into the ring. Harris seems willing, although he has approached me about doing a written rather than an oral debate. Dawkins continues to avoid my invitation to debate on a secular West Coast campus, leading one atheist to dub him Richard the Chickenhearted. I really hope that Dawkins proves he has the courage of his convictions. (How brave is it to beat up on former televangelist Ted Haggard?)
Otherwise the self-styled “brights” are going to face the empirical fact that when it comes to defending their views, atheists are basically losers. Remarkably, the “party of reason” is simply incompetent to vindicate those claims against an advocate of the “party of faith.” Now what could be more embarrassing than that?
Staunch atheist Richard Dawkins recently denied wanting to stop Christian traditions as he labeled himself a “cultural Christian.”
“This is historically a Christian country. I’m a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims,” Oxford biologist Dawkins said on BBC’s recent “Have Your Say” program.
Dawkins, who has expressed hopes of converting religious believers to atheism through his international bestseller The God Delusion, made the comments while fielding open questions on religion and debating with conservative MP Mark Pritchard.
Pritchard had called a parliamentary debate on “Christianophobia” last week at Westminster Hall. The debate was on “the relentless assault, mostly by stealth, on this nation’s much-loved Christian heritage and traditions,” Pritchard said.
“It is about how anti-Christian sentiment is increasing, not decreasing; why many Christians feel they are not getting a fair hearing when it comes to Christianity in the public square.”
He also contended that many of Britain’s Christian traditions, including Christmas, were being undermined by secular officials and public figures.
Debating Dawkins on the BBC program, Pritchard stated that there was an “increasing feeling of people from the Christian tradition that many of the main Christian festivals are being sidelined and marginalized, sometimes by stealth, sometimes openly.”
He attributed such trends to the “politically-correct brigade, fundamentalists, atheists, and militant secularists.”
Political correctness is particularly apparent during the Advent season when shoppers find it “increasingly difficult to buy greeting cards with references to Christ.”
“Christ always has been and always will be at the very heart of Christmas. Taking Christ out of Christmas is like serving the Christmas turkey without the stuffing,” Pritchard said.
Dawkins denied wanting to stop Christian traditions.
“I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history,” he said.
“If there’s any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists,” said Dawkins.
Dawkins has credited his exposure to Darwinism as the turning point from his Anglican upbringing to atheism. He is part of a new breed of outspoken atheists who are publicly rejecting the existence of God. Dawkins is also urging other atheists to come out of the closet and declare themselves publicly through his Out Campaign.
By Marvin Olasky
On the roller coaster of history, we’re seeing a hands-in-the-air moment as atheistic books soar onto best-seller lists. Some Christians are alarmed at the furious flurry, but there’s no need to be: This, too, shall pass.
Atheistic authors see themselves as avant-garde, but they merely are echoing the riffs of 19th-century scoffers who predicted the imminent demise of Christianity. Gilded Age orator Robert Ingersoll, for example, said that when Christians dominate schools and media, it is hard to mount an attack on concepts of revelation and miracles, but “now that religion’s monopoly has been broken, it is within the compass of any human being to see those evidences and proofs as the feeble-minded inventions that they are.”
So what happened? Why are many churches in the U.S. booming? Why is Christianity expanding so rapidly in Africa and China? To begin to answer that, we should let our imaginations run wild: What if in the 20th century, in the biggest country by land area and also in the biggest country by population, leaders had required the teaching of atheism in all schools? Freed of “feeble-minded inventions,” wouldn’t the world be a better place?
Oh, you say we don’t have to imagine? You say the Soviet Union and China did establish atheism and the results were not pretty? Atheists regularly write about the ravages of the Inquisition. Sure: It appears that the Inquisition over the centuries killed 5,000 people, which in my view is 5,000 too many. But Stalin and Mao killed not 5,000 or 50,000 or 500,000 or 5 million, but at least 50 million. Torturing and killing innocent people is a human phenomenon, not a religious one. There’s plenty of sin to go around.
Keeping that Soviet and Chinese experience in mind, it’s remarkable that Christopher Hitchens, author of “God Is Not Great,” claims his fellow atheists “may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and pursuit of ideas for their own sake.” Who is “we”? Hitchens writes that atheists who disagree on a question “resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication.” But the 20th century was a century of atheists resolving their disputes not by excommunication, but by murdering each other.
Hitchens argues that biblical commands lead Christians to two conclusions: either “a continual scourging and mortification of the flesh,” along with confessions of guilt and denunciation of others, or “organized hypocrisy,” with churchgoers paying the religious authorities to give them a break. He offers two alternatives: a “spiritual police state” or a “spiritual banana republic.”
But the advent of Christmas offers a third alternative: grace. John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” had been a slave trader. He became a Christian, finally realized the evil he had done and could fight with confidence against slavery, despite his past, because he knew his sins were forgiven.
The atheistic best-sellers often lump together all religions, but Christianity differs from other religions in its emphasis on grace. Lots of religions are bargaining opportunities: “I’ll do this for you, Allah, or Vishnu, and you’ll do something or me.” As we saw on Sept. 11, bargaining religions can cause big trouble sometimes: Fly an airplane into a building, and you get a big reward. Christianity, though, is about grace. We can’t buy God off. We can’t trade with him. Some folks never understand this, but those who do find it’s enormously liberating.
Grace means that when a prodigal son returns, his past is not held against him. Some people keep close records of wrongs and hate the idea of brand-new beginnings, but Christmas celebrates liberation from the past. “He rules the world with truth and grace,” the old carol tells us, and the beauty of Christian belief is that truth and grace go together in displaying the “wonders of His love.”
Let heaven and nature sing.
Not since the April 8, 1966, famous “Is God dead?” cover of Time magazine has atheism been the topic du jour.
“Atheism has come into vogue in cycles pretty reliably for the past 300 years,” said Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason, a libertarian magazine. “These days, at least you won’t get burned at the stake, and you might get a New York Times’ best-seller.”
A flood of post-September 11 books on the topic have done quite well. Among them are “Breaking the Spell” by Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer’s “Why Darwin Matters,” Michel Onfray’s “Atheist Manifesto,” Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith,” Ibn Warraq’s “Leaving Islam,” biologist Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” and journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens’ “God is Not Great.”
Reasons for the surge range from a backlash against radical Islam to a general unhappiness with the Bush administration.
“The rise of militant Islam revived questions as to where does faith lead people?” Mr. Gillespie said. “It all proceeds from September 11, which in many profound ways was a religious act.”
Plus, he added, the current administration has given religion-friendly policies a bad name.
“To the extent that this administration has been seen as a complete failure,” he said, “on the right, you’ll see a reach for a new kind of conservatism. It will have more in common with atheism that says religion should not be part of politics.”
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the share of American adults who do not subscribe to any religion increased from 8 percent in 1990 to more than 14 percent — about 30 million people — in 2001.
“Forty-three percent of Americans don’t attend church,” said Paul Kurtz, founder and chairman of the Amherst, N.Y.-based Center for Inquiry. “A lot of people realize they don’t believe in religion, and they don’t want the state to meddle in private belief. They’re looking to literature, ethics or philosophy to get guidance.”
His group has established 11 “inquiry centers” — the skeptic’s answer to a church building — including one on Pennsylvania Avenue. Nine more for what he called “the unchurched, the untempled, the unmosqued” are planned in the next two years. The circulation of “Free Inquiry,” the group’s magazine, has grown 30 percent in the past two years to reach 35,000.
“We’re peeling back the burqa on unbelief,” said Nathan Bupp, Inquiry spokesman.
Other cultural indicators include a March revelation by Rep. Pete Stark, an 18-term California Democrat, that he is an atheist. He is the first known congressman to do so.
Earlier this month, a movie for the unbelieving set premiered, albeit to mixed reviews. “The Golden Compass,” a sanitized version of the book by Philip Pullman, glorifies the virtues of atheism and the evils of Christianity.
And the Altadena, Calif.-based Skeptics Society will observe tomorrow as Newtonmass, the 365th birthday of Isaac Newton.
Fred Edwords, a spokesman for the American Humanist Association, says nonbelievers are pouring out of the closet.
“Conferences and events put on by various humanist and free-thought organizations have been bursting at the seams with attendance,” he said. “We had 1,000 people at a gathering put on earlier this year by our Harvard chapter. Usually we get a few hundred.”
The Harvard gathering, which featured novelist Salman Rushdie, ironically ended up in the campus chapel.
“It was the biggest hall we could get,” Mr. Edwords explained.
He cites the Bush administration for the atheist surge.
“You see their favoritism toward conservative religion,” he said, “and the influence religion has had on foreign policy, and I think a lot of atheists said, ‘We’re fed up.’ “