A convergence of many factors has taken place. Much of education in the 1960s came unhinged from any moral absolutes and ethical values, to wit the book, Excellence Without a Soul, by Harry R. Lewis. We have seen this happening the last 40 years. There have been many voices alerting us to this. But more than just a philosophy took over; a mood took over.
First, secularization generally held that religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations have lost their social significance. People liked the idea of a secular society and a secular government. But in terms of moral values and ethics, they never checked into the internal assumptions of secularization that made it wide open to almost any view on any subject. Beginning in the 1960s, the moods of secularization ultimately led to society’s loss of shame.
Next is pluralization, which sounds like a practical and worthy idea; and in many ways, it is. In pluralism you have a competing number of worldviews that are available, and no worldview is dominant. But smuggled in with pluralization was the absolutization of relativism. The only thing we could be sure of was that all moral choices were relative and there was no point of reference to right and wrong. This resulted in the death of reason.
Last is privatization, which is an accommodation to the religiously minded. If secularization and pluralization were going to hold sway, what does society do with the large number of people who are spiritually minded?
Being spiritually minded was okay as long as people kept their spiritual beliefs private and did not bring them into the public arena. The irony of this was the fact secularization — which had its assumptions on absolutes and anything of the metaphysical nature — was allowed into the public place. In fact, its very trust was to bring it into the public place. But anyone who believed in a spiritual Essence, an Ultimate Reality, and the fact there were transcendent absolutes that needed to be adhered to was told to keep those beliefs private. That ultimately paved the way for the loss of meaning.
These three moods — secularization, pluralization, and privatization — brought about loss of shame, loss of reason, and loss of meaning. How was this authoritatively pontificated in the social strain? This is when philosophy stepped in, the moralizers against morality came in, and political correctness came in. These gave society some parameters that allowed it to expel the moralizing from outside the secular realm.
As a result, everything became pragmatic. Philosophers and naturalists stepped in. In this new century, we have lost all definitions of what it means to be human, and what sexuality, life, and the home are all about. We are on the high seas, battling the storms of conflicting worldviews without a compass.
God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents.31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
–Apostle Paul, Romans 1:18-35 J.B. Phillips New Testament
The philosopher [Immanuel] Kant was right long ago to notice that moral activity implies a religious dimension. The atheist [Friedrich] Nietzsche also saw the point and argued forcefully that the person who gives up belief in God must be consistent and give up Christian morals as well, because the former is the foundation of the latter. He had nothing but contempt for fellow humanists who refused to see that Christian morality cannot survive the loss of its theological moorings, except as habit or as lifeless tradition. As Ayn Rand also sees so clearly, love of the neighbor cannot be rationally justified within the framework of secular humanism. Love for one’s neighbor is an ethical implication of the Christian position.
This suggests to me that the world’s deepest problem is not economic or technological, but spiritual and moral. What is missing is the vision of reality that can sustain the neighbor-oriented life style that is so urgently needed in our world today.
When injustice or tragedy comes our way, a common response is to get angry and exclaim, “why me?” or “this is not fair!” or “this shouldn’t be happening to me!” Some shake their fist at God.
Why do we react this way? Why are we troubled by injustice? Why do we find tragedy and suffering so intolerable? Who told us things were not meant to like this?
Human beings resist the idea of accepting pain as inevitable. We cannot bring ourselves to consider tragedy as normal and to live with it as we do with the changing of seasons or varying weather patterns. Suffering regularly provokes anger and disappointment.
Somehow we instinctively know there is something wrong with this picture. Things shouldn’t be this way. This idea seems to be written deep inside of us. Injustice and suffering were simply not meant to be.
Tragedy would not seem tragic to us unless somehow we knew that life was supposed to be different. Injustice would not exist unless there was some kind of unspoken universal law that everyone should adhere to.
After all, we cannot talk about “crooked” if we do not have some idea of “straight.” We cannot be homesick if we have no home. We cannot be disappointed or frustrated unless we are convinced something better should be taking place.
If there is a God who wrote his moral law in our hearts, and who created us to live in a perfect world that was somehow ruined in a tragic way, then our reactions make a lot of sense.
But if this material world is all humans have ever known, if this is “normal” and it has always been this way, then anger makes no sense at all. It’s like blowing our cool because autumn leaves turned color, or because the temperature dropped.
If an atheist acted according to his naturalistic worldview, he would see everything that goes on in this world as normal. He would not be getting angry at tragedy and injustice.
But he does.
It appears his heart knows something that his head doesn’t.
In a 2007 article (now in his website archives), atheist Richard Dawkins frowned upon those valuing faithfulness. In “Banishing the Green-Eyed Monster,” he asked, “Why are we so obsessed with monogamous fidelity in the first place?” He says that we need to intellectually “rise above” the sexual jealousy that blind Darwinian evolution has produced in us and cheerfully permit our spouses to carry on any sexual recreation they choose to have outside the marriage bed. “Why should you deny your loved one the pleasure of sexual encounters with others if he or she is that way inclined?” he asks. Dawkins is being completely consistent with his worldview by denying any objective sexual morality, even where marriage is concerned, so long as no one is harmed. (It remains unclear, however, why harming anyone or anything is objectively wrong in his view, where morality is nothing but an evolutionary social construct.)
My sense is that most self-described atheists, particularly those who are in happy marriages, have a deep-seated conviction that something is truly wrong with marital infidelity. As God’s image-bearers, the Truth of Things resonates strongly within their soul, and they know that spouses should be faithful. Just like they know, intuitively, that it is wrong to stab puppies with scissors for fun. The Apostle Paul talked about how even those who do not profess to follow God often still follow His law, for it is written on their hearts—“their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:15).
Even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardor of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ. –Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky
Science has been the iron wedge by which the secular has penetrated the realm of the sacred. Science has been the sharp scalpel with which our most cherished ideas about humanity have been subjected to dissection and doubt. Those who suggest that religion is the primary source of human conflict and bloodshed are not looking closely enough. If we examine the history of violence in modern times we will often find rationales rooted in science.
The idea that all human lives are sacred and of equal value is not a product of science. The sanctity of human life cannot be proven in a laboratory. When it comes to this most profound and foundational moral insight, we in the West have only one source: the Judeo-Christian tradition. This idea was first expressed in the Bible and it has survived throughout the centuries because of the ongoing authority of the Jewish and Christian faiths. If some of the Enlightenment thinkers later embraced and reiterated the concept, they cannot be credited with an immaculate intellectual conception. It was right there in the Bible most of them read.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has built a wall between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. It has placed man on a pedestal and put a crown on his head. Modern science, on the other hand, has consistently sought to tear down this wall and treat man as just another species of animal. Science has sought to take that crown off our heads—and measure the size of our skulls.
We are frequently warned these days about the great danger of religion expanding into fields where it does not belong. This concern is not without justification. There are areas of expertise, especially in the realm of science, where religion can contribute little. Religion cannot help us split the atom or map out our DNA. The Bible provides no clues that can help us cure cancer…
But we must also recognize that there exists an equal and possibly greater threat of science exceeding its proper boundaries. Especially when it comes to morality, science can confuse, but it rarely enlightens. Science can enable us to split the atom, but it cannot help us decide whether we are justified in using an atom bomb. Science can help us map out our DNA, but it cannot help us determine whether it is moral to clone humans. Science can help us cure cancer, but it cannot help us cope with cancer.
When science ventures beyond its core areas of competence into the area of morality, it often leaves corpses in its wake… With an air of authority to which they have no claim, scientists have called into question the key principles which protect humanity—especially the weakest among us—from annihilation. Before even grasping the danger, they could bring our whole ethical edifice crashing down. If religion does not belong in the science classroom, then it is equally true that science has no place in the ethics classroom. We need a wall of separation between science and morality every bit as much as we need on between church and state.