The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.
To regret religion is to regret Western civilization.
In the twentieth century, the secularists, still living off the spiritual capital of Christianity, often pretended to chide Christians for having invented the term “secularist,” a term which, they said, was devoid of meaning. Their leaders knew very well, however, that secularism, like any other parasite, derives its sustenance from the object on which it feeds, and so they were rather pleased when milquetoast Christians timidly offered, as a definition of secularism, “living as though God did not exist.” What Christians should have called it was, rather, “a contemptibly fraudulent way of living on the cheap, by reaping the maximum fruits of Christian effort, while contributing the minimum effort of your own.” When secularists accused Christians of “living in the past,” the Christians ought to have retaliated by pointing out that secularists were “living off the past.” By the time they got around to doing so, however, the majority of secularists had become morally incapable of seeing the point.
Do you see this lantern? cried Syme in a terrible voice.’Do you see the cross carved on it, and the flame inside? You did not make it. You did not light it. Better men than you, men who could believe and obey, twisted the entrails of iron and preserved the legend of fire. There is not a street you walk on, there is not a thread you wear, that was not made as this lantern was, by denying your philosophy of dirt and rats. You can make nothing. You can only destroy. You will destroy mankind, you will destroy the world. Let that suffice you. Yet this one old Christian lantern you shall not destroy. It shall go where your empire of apes will never have the wit to find it.