The essential amorality of all atheist doctrines is often hidden from us by an irrelevant personal argument. We see that many articulate secularists are well-meaning and law-abiding men; we see them go into righteous indignation over injustice and often devote their lives to good works. So we conclude that “he can’t be wrong whose life is in the right”– that their philosophies are just as good guides to action as Christianity. What we don’t see is that they are not acting on their philosophies. They are acting, out of habit or sentiment, on an inherited Christian ethic which they still take for granted though they have rejected the creed from which it sprang. Their children will inherit somewhat less of it.
Smoke on the Mountain
Where do atheists and agnostics acquire their often acute sensitivity to injustice, evil, suffering, and death if not from an even deeper experience of ultimate life, fulfillment, and meaning? In short, what provides the grounding for a radical experience of ‘what ought not to be’ for those who deny ultimate meaning a priori? –Harvey D. Egan
Although the world cries out for justice, the basis for it has been disintegrating now that the vagaries of human will have come to replace faith in divine justice and eternal law. Although there is still a broad cultural consensus that it is right to be committed to the well-being of others, the rise of secular humanism makes it more and more difficult to support and explain any such obligation . . . All that the secular humanist has is his own present existence. Nothing has a rational claim to be of greater value for him. Therefore, no ethical claim which involves self-sacrifice, unless it promises due recompense, can win his assent.
The secular humanist who performs an act genuinely altruistic and self-sacrificing is presupposing the falsity of his humanistic beliefs. Loving our neighbour is not a rationally defensible ethic within the humanistic system. It is an ethic theologically grounded in the gospel and respected long after the erosion of faith because of its recognized rightness. It does not and did not grow out of humanistic soil. Logically speaking secular humanism is ethically bankrupt and its assumptions about reality when taken to their logical conclusions turn out to be inhuman and anti-human. The world’s deepest problems are moral and spiritual, not economic and technological.
I came across the writings of René Girard, a French philosopher and anthropologist whose brilliant career culminated in a position at Stanford University. Girard became fascinated with the fact that in modern times a “marginalized” person assumes a moral authority . . . Girard noted that a cavalcade of liberation movements—abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, animal rights, gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, human rights—had gathered speed in the 20th century.
The trend mystified Girard because he found nothing comparable in his reading of ancient literature. Victors, not the marginalized, wrote history, and the myths from Babylon, Greece, and elsewhere celebrated strong heroes, not pitiable victims. In his further research, Girard traced the phenomenon back to the historical figure of Jesus. It struck Girard that Jesus’ story cuts against the grain of every heroic story from its time. Indeed, Jesus chose poverty and disgrace, spent his infancy as a refugee, lived in a minority race under a harsh regime, and died as a prisoner. From the very beginning Jesus took the side of the underdog: the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the “marginalized.” His crucifixion, Girard concluded, introduced a new plot to history: the victim becomes the hero by being a victim. To the consternation of his secular colleagues, Girard converted to Christianity.
When Jesus died as an innocent victim, it introduced what one of Girard’s disciples has called “the most sweeping historical revolution in the world, namely, the emergence of an empathy for victims.” Today the victim occupies the moral high ground everywhere in the Western world: consider how the media portray the plight of AIDS orphans in Africa or Tibetan refugees or uprooted Palestinians. Girard contends that Jesus’ life and death brought forth a new stream in history, one that undermines injustice. It may take centuries for that stream to erode a hard bank of oppression, as it did with slavery, but the stream of liberation flows on.
Sometimes Jesus followers join the stream, and sometimes they stand on the bank and watch. Yet over time the gospel works its liberating effect. (You can see the contrast clearly in societies that have experienced little Christian influence.) Women, minorities, the disabled, human rights activists—all these draw their moral force from the power of the gospel unleashed at the cross, when God took the side of the victim. In a great irony, the “politically correct” movement defending these rights often positions itself as an enemy of Christianity, when in fact the gospel has contributed the very underpinnings that make possible such a movement. And those who condemn the church for its episodes of violence, slavery, sexism, and racism do so by gospel principles. The gospel continues to leaven a culture even when the church takes the wrong side on an issue.
What Good is God
If the terrorists, or Hitler, or Pol Pot, or you or I, are simply dancing to our DNA, no one can blame us for anything. One Russian intellectual put it to me, ‘We thought we could get rid of God and retain a value for man. We found we couldn’t, we destroyed man as well.’ … The new atheists, ladies and gentlemen, devalue human beings. And ironically, for all their moral outrage, they deny the one thing that upholds moral value: justice! They hold justice to be a delusion; because for millions of people there is no justice in this life and they will never get justice after death by definition. There is no hope. Terrorists eventually get away with it. And reason and experience tell me this is morally absurd. And Christianity backs me up as it teaches me that death is not the end. There is to be a final judgment at which justice will be done and done fairly.