Published March 24, 2012
The atheist "Reason Rally" that will take place in Washington on Saturday, March 24 symbolizes the growing strength of atheism in American culture and politics. Events of this kind are meant to get our attention and to generate media interest and articles such as this one.
So as people prepare to gather on the National Mall to celebrate their belief in nothingness, we might reasonably wonder what they want.
In the last decade there has been a spate of books denouncing religion and the religious. Leading this crusade are men like Oxford University’s professional atheist Richard Dawkins.
Finding abuses of religion is low hanging fruit—the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church, self-detonating Muslim extremists, snake-handlers, etc.—and Dawkins and his ilk have made a fortune peddling it.
Dawkins has even turned it into a movement. His minions organize conferences, evangelize the believing, and even gather for Sunday meetings.
Paradoxically, it has become a kind of religion, a Church of Unbelief complete with a saint (Christopher Hitchens), a high priest (Richard Dawkins), and holy writ (anything Dawkins writes). And now, with the political nature of this rally, Dawkins is set to become the Pat Robertson of atheism.
But there is something not quite right about all of this. Christianity, whatever the faults of its adherents, has a rich intellectual tradition that has a comprehensive view of life.
It has given rise to the West as we know it. Our laws, arts, governments, and the very framework of our thought find their meaning in Christianity. Take for example the central premise of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal.”
As Indian philosopher and social reformer Vishal Mangalwadi points out, there is nothing self-evidential about the equality of men.
Indeed, that most of the world believes in the inequality of men finds expression in many of the oppressive laws and governments in non-Western traditions. The only way such a statement makes any sense at all is in a Christian context.
Atheism, by contrast, has no creed, no principles, no philosophy, and can give no guidance. It is but to have a settled disposition on a single question: is there a God?
As my friend the late atheist and journalist Christopher Hitchens conceded, “atheism is nothing in itself.”
That not withstanding, atheism does have a history—a bad history. By conservative estimates, the twentieth century, an experiment in secular governance, witnessed the deaths of more than 100 million people. That is more than all the religious wars in all previous centuries combined.
One gets the impression, however, that these so-called “new atheists” listened to John Lennon’s “Imagine” in the black light a few too many times and really believe that a godless society would be utopian in nature.
How we answer the question of God’s existence or non-existence will largely determine our view of man and that, in turn, will determine our view of government.
If, for instance, you do not believe in God, you are likely to conclude that man is a temporal being meant to serve the state, an eternal institution. This is the view of the communist world. Sacrificing a few million people for the sake of building socialist paradise was always deemed an acceptable price to pay.
If, on the other hand, you believe in a just, benevolent God who made man in his own image, you will likely draw a very different conclusion: man is an eternal being that the state, a temporal institution, is meant to serve.
Proponents of a society free from religious influence can point to no nation or civilization that was founded upon atheism that we might call even remotely good. The story of those regimes is well documented and may be summarized in a word—murderous.
What they can point to are secular societies that are still running off of their accumulated Christian capital. But beware. When the fumes in that tank are spent, tyranny cannot be far away.
In his farewell address, George Washington offered a sober warning: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” This he deduced without the benefit of seeing the twentieth century. The eighteenth, it seems, was enough.
So as the rally for nothingness meets to celebrate, well, nothing in particular, reflect for a moment on the world they would give us. One need not imagine it. It has been done.
Larry Alex Taunton is founder and executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation. This article is adapted from his new book “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief.” You can follow him on Twitter@ LarryTaunton.