The Tragedy that is Christian Morality
Ironically, Hays laments the evil that goes on in the world while his own worldview teaches that “God controls whatsoever comes to pass” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160) and that “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” (Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 172). Given Hays’ worldview, the people at Planned Parenthood are nothing more than puppets doing the will of the Christian god as they fulfill its “divine plan.” Since, according to Christianity, everything that happens in the world, happens according to “God’s plan,” Planned Parenthood is just one more instance of planned evil.
It’s pretty hard to lay blame on atheism when you worship a god which has intended evil to proliferate the world from before the beginning of time, but then again, Christians are not known for the logical solvency of their worldview.
But Christian crusaders don’t like to pass up any opportunity in which they can vilify non-believers. For believers, atheists are the ultimate spoil sports. The very existence of people who don’t believe in invisible magic beings serves as a constant reminder that some individuals in this world may in fact have mature minds and do not confuse the imaginary with the real. For those who insist on worshiping imaginary beings, atheists are a disappointment; their religious taunts roll off like water on a duck’s feathers.
A brief encounter I had just yesterday illustrated this point quite well. As I was walking to my car in a parking lot, groceries in tow, a fellow approached me with a tract in his hand asking, “Would you like to come to our church service?” I looked him in the eye and smiled politely as I calmly responded, “I’m not a believer.” That is all I said, but even this was too much as it was difficult for him to contain his initial disappointment; his face changed into a rather sour look, like a used car salesman who simply can’t get that ’92 Dodge off his lot. I would have been more than happy to converse with him, but he gave up immediately and walked off, looking for some easy fish.
In his blog entry, Hays likens atheism to
car on a hilltop without a parking brake. The only thing that keeps it from rolling down the hill is the wheel chock of Christian culture. Remove that, and watch what happens. Atheism has no moral brakes. Remove the Christian wheel chock, and unstoppable nihilism ensues.
This “wheel chock of Christian culture” enshrines the unearned – both in terms of guilt and “salvation,” and models the supreme moral authority of the universe as a father who turns his back on his own child as his child is beaten, tortured and executed. As a child myself and as a father myself, such an image is truly horrifying. But that is a demonstration of “God’s love” at its finest hour, and Christians explicitly celebrate it as such. One might say that we would expect evil from people who are evil, but what screwy sense of morality must one have to call evil good when the deity they happen to worship commits it?
And keep in mind that this “wheel chock of Christian culture” has given us the papal hegemony of Rome, the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, Calvin’s Consistory, centuries of child abuse, the rise of countless cults, such as Jim Jones’ “People’s Church,” David Koresh’s Branch Davidians, the Heaven’s Gate self-mutilators, and arguably many, many other terrors thanks to the influence of its primitive anti-rational dogma and its leading witch doctors.
And it’s not hard to see why. The Christian worldview keeps the concept of morality is shrouded in obscurity, confusion and contradiction. In its most popular translation, the sourcebook for this “wheel chock of Christian culture,” the bible, nowhere even makes use of the words ‘moral’ or ‘morality’ (a search from Genesis to Revelation gets you “Sorry, we didn’t find any results for your search” and suggests that we “double-check spelling, especially people and place names”). Nowhere do we find any clear instruction on morality, beginning most crucially with a principled understanding of what morality is or why it’s important. It’s simply not there The bible’s authors devote much of their energy on their concern for circumcision and carnality, but certainly not on the intellectual importance of morality. And to the extent that it does have any moral teachings, there’s confusion on whether it applies or when it applies. E.g., are adulterers to be put to death (cf. Lev. 20:10), or not (cf. John 8:1-11). Moreover, if you do live immorally, you can be forgiven anyway – and just by inclining your beliefs in the approved manner (!), so clearly morality cannot be all that serious a matter. And yet, we are told that this worldview is the great moral regulator. Go figure.
And of course, if you’re simply honest and mention the fact that you don’t believe that the supernatural beings people imagine are real, you’re chastised and belittled with the fury of an internet apologist. As if that were going to somehow make you change your views. “Steve Hays says all these terrible things about atheists. I better start believing now!” O little man.
Christianity ascribes fantastical power to consciousness through its idolization of the imagination while denying its actual power through its assault on reason. (It is precisely in this manner that Christianity denies the axiom of consciousness.) The mere presence or absence of a certain belief is sufficient to have eternal consequences for one’s soul. Just believe, and you’ll be able to walk on water, cast mountains into the sea, and have fellowship with an imaginary Jesus. And with today’s apologists, if you just believe in Jesus, then you have what passes among them as a philosophical account for universals, a justification for inductive inference, a ground for morals, etc. Of course, all this ignores, among other things, the fact that, before one can believe in Jesus, he must imagine Jesus. This simply means that whatever “account” or “justification” Christians claim to have for philosophical matters, is ultimately based in the imagination. But as Hays himself aptly puts it, “An imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus” (Olson’s Imaginary Jesus).
If there is a fundamental distinction between what is real and what we merely imagine, then this distinction has enormously wide implications for our understanding of reality, our approach to acquiring and validating knowledge, our evaluation of what the good is, etc. And yet, where does the bible present any consistent instruction on this matter? How can one worship the Christian god, or any god, without first imagining it and then pretending that what is imagined is real? How can one pray to the Christian god without imagining that it exists and is listening to one’s prayers? The Christian god is supposed to be a mind-independent entity, like the objects we perceive, but completely beyond the reach of our senses, and with none of the attributes we find in things we discover in the world when we look outward. We have no alternative but to look inward and imagine any gods, including the Christian god. Sadly for Christians, my choice to be honest requires me to acknowledge the facts that there is indeed a fundamental distinction between what is real and what is merely imaginary, and that what I imagine is merely imaginary, not real. And it is precisely for this “sin” that I am berated by Christians. It is precisely for this “sin” that Dustin Segers wants to get into people’s faces and bully them with a never-ending series of “how do you know?” questions, fired off in rapid succession, questions which Christianity can ultimately “answer” only with the formula: “Just believe.”
But we atheists, being a minority as we are, are easy to scapegoat for all of society’s woes, even though we are a mere minority. I had no idea that, as an atheist, I had so much power and influence. But apparently we atheists are responsible not only for Planned Parenthood, but also for Nazi Germany, the Korean War, the failed policies of the Johnson Administration, Jimmy Carter’s brain cancer, car accidents, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other woes. Somehow, in the believer’s mind, I am to bear blame for such things, and yet the god he enshrines in his imagination, which he says created the world to begin with and governs everything according to its “plan,” is not only entirely blameless, but also the ultimate source and standard of morality. Pardon me if I’m not persuaded by all this.
Nevertheless, somehow – anyhow – no how, atheism as such is to be blamed for what’s been happening in Planned Parenthood. We certainly should not pause and consider if a worldview which models child sacrifice may have any hand in this.
In his comment responding to Hays’ blog entry, Justin asked:
Why do you insist on lumping all atheists together as if we were some ideological monolith. All atheism tells you is what I don't believe in, not what I do.
Yes, technically, atheism is just a statement of what an atheist doesn't believe rather than what he does believe.
However, by denying God's existence, he denies the foundation of morality.
This of course goes right over the Christian’s head, for not only does his worldview conceive of facts as products of conscious activity that conform to supernatural will (and thus cannot in any way be considered absolute), but in the Christian’s mind morality has nothing to do with facts which we find in the world to begin with, but are merely expressions of divine wishing. John Robbins admitted as much when he wrote (An Introduction to Gordon H. Clark):
The distinction between right and wrong depends entirely upon the commands of God. There is no natural law that makes some actions right and others wrong… Were there no law of God, there would be no right or wrong.
So, not only as “an atheist,” but as an adult human being, I’m all too happy to deny such a morality, for its foundations are as corrupt as they are subjective and irrational. The wisdom of my denial of the Christian view of morality is only confirmed by the fact that there is a rational alternative to Christianity’s morality, namely the moral code of life, i.e., the Objectivist ethics.
The stark contrasts between Christian morality and the Objectivist ethics cannot be over-emphasized. I have already given sufficient information about the Objectivist ethics in the above link; also, readers are encouraged to examine “The Objectivist Ethics” in Ayn Rand’s book The Virtue of Selfishness. I will say a few things about Christianity’s version of morality, the version of morality that is held up by Christian believers as some sort of standard which all men should put into practice.
Christian morality entails faith in supernatural spirits, unquestioning obedience to commands (whatever they may be), self-sacrifice, perpetual guilt and fear, hope in the irrational, belief in the imaginary, the willingness to lie to oneself, the psychological fallout of mental disintegration. Its standard is death, and Christians never tire of speaking about death as though it had positive importance. It teaches that your moral starting point is that of a convicted felon, even from birth, and that you must put your trust in something that is wholly indistinguishable from something that is purely imaginary in order for this starting point to somehow be overcome. On Christianity’s view, one cannot earn salvation; salvation is only possible because someone died for it. In other words, the believer seeks to benefit directly from someone else’s suffering and loss. Its assertion that we continue living in some supernatural realm (again, indistinguishable from something merely imaginary) after we die here in “this world,” only serves to cheapen life, as though to say: don’t worry about this life, there’s more later after you die, and you’ll even have it “more abundantly.” It requires the adherent to hate his own family and even himself, which given the poor character of many Christians, that probably wouldn’t be hard to do (I can only suppose that if I were Sye Ten Bruggencate, I’d hate myself too).
Christian morality holds to the fantasy that love is subject to commands – that simply ordering a person to love someone else will result in genuine love. Of course, this is a delusion, but this does not stop Christians from repeating such nonsense. And yet, they are to love indiscriminately, which only cheapens love as such. They are commanded, for example, to love their neighbor as they love themselves. But suppose one’s neighbor is a wife-beating child abuser seething with cruelty towards everyone in his vicinity? Ignore it: you’re supposed to “love” that neighbor as you love yourself in spite of his threat to values.
Far from being consistently and absolutely pro-good, Christianity teaches that there can be such a thing as “a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.” Apologists do not tell us what this “morally sufficient reason” permitting evil might be or how they came to assess any willful permission of evil as “morally sufficient.” No specifics or analysis are provided. This is simply an article of faith to be accepted unquestionably in spite of its inherent philosophical hollowness. But this permissive view of evil (which can only proceed at the cost of the good) coincides with the command that the believer “resist not evil” found in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:39). So not only does the Christian god have a cozy relationship with evil, the believer is also likewise expected to adopt a demeanor of moral indifference as well.
All of this rests on a wholly mystical epistemology (if it could be called such) in which believers affirm that they “know” things when in fact there was no rational process of discovery and validation involved. Augustine summed it up quite tellingly with the words “do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand" (Lectures on the Gospel of John, 29.6). This is ominously similar to Nancy Pelosi’s infamous endorsement of the Obamacare legislation: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Both remarks model making a commitment to something before understanding what is being committed to, which means: a commitment is expected without understanding, while understanding is promised as a reward for making the commitment. Unfortunately, that promise is pretty much forgotten shortly after making the commitment, for in neither case – whether it’s Christianity or Obamacare – understanding is never achieved. But that’s why Proverbs 3:5 tells the believer not to “lean on” his understanding anyway.
In sum, the divide between the Objectivist ethics and Christian morality boils down to the alternative between fact-based values vs. faith-based duties, rational self-interest vs. servile self-sacrifice, the reason-guided mind of rational philosophy vs. the fear-guilt complex of religion.
When Justin rightly told Hays that he should know better than to smear all atheists with the same brush, pointing out that Objectivism has its own “ethical framework,” Hays replied:
Yes, I'm aware of Objectivism. It's a hack philosophy.
Objectivism affirms basic undeniable facts as its starting point and explicitly recognizes the primacy of existence – i.e., the recognition that the objects of consciousness exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity (cf. wishing doesn’t make it so). Objectivism holds that reason is man’s only means of knowledge and founds morality on the basis of reason (i.e., morality is the application of reason to man’s task of living and enjoying his life). Objectivism has a unique theory of concepts (compared to none in Christianity – as Jason Petersen gleefully affirmed, “concepts have no place in Christian epistemology” – see here).
Objectivism affirms man’s right to exist for his own sake, which includes property rights, the right to life, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness. Compared to Christianity, which provides no doctrine of individual rights – J.P. Holding even states
The idea of individual rights is a byproduct of modern individualism, a way of thinking that has only emerged in the last hundred or so years (with the Industrian Revolution) and only in Western nations. The ancients, and most of the world today, does not speak of "individual rights" but of group obligations. Thus there is no "right" to do anything. This is not in the Bible itself since it is a given in their cultural background [sic]” (this comes from Holding’s response to Anton Thorn’s Questions for Christians; unfortunately, Holding has since removed his response from the internet.)
So a philosophy that champions reality, reason, values, and individual rights, is – according to Steve Hays – “a hack philosophy”? Really? Is he knowingly rejecting reality, reason, values and individual rights, or is he simply ignorant of what Objectivism actually teaches? Or, is he so confessionally invested in his mysticism that familiarity with the relevant facts simply does not matter, that – like Mike Licona who says “I want it to be true” – he is committed to embracing Christianity at all costs?
In fact, one would expect an adherent of a worldview which ultimately holds that wishing not only makes it so, but that wishing made the universe in the first place, to heap his scorn against a worldview which consistently affirms the primacy of existence. Again, atheists are spoil sports, and faith cannot proceed unfettered in a culture of reason. So it is reason which must be assaulted and stamped out. Indeed, Hays even thinks that reason can deceive people (see his blog entry Signs and seasons).
As for abortion, there are two matters under concern: 1) whether or not abortion is moral, and 2) whether or not one should have a right to get an abortion. I recall one fellow who argued that the right to get an abortion does not – given today’s technology – entail the right to kill the aborted fetus. I’m guessing that Christians would still object to abortion under such circumstances, and there may be good reasons to sustain an objection to abortion – but they will not come from Christianity.
That is to say that Christians are for the most part vocal opponents of abortion (that is, when they aren’t aborting their own unwanted pregnancies… shhhhh!). But how can a Christian consistently object to abortion? After all, their god controls everything according to its divine plan, so if abortions are happening, they must be – according to Christianity – part of the Christian god’s plan.
Also, William Lane Craig – probably the highest-profile defender of Christianity living today – tells us that the souls of those who perish in infancy or childhood go straight to heaven. In defending the genocides commanded by the Christian god in the Old Testament in which children and infants were most likely slaughtered, Craig states:
if you believe as I do in the salvation of infants or children who die, what that meant was that these… the death of these children meant their salvation. They were the recipients of an infinite good as a result of their earthly phase of life being terminated. The problem is that people look at this from a naturalistic perspective and think life ends at the grave. But in fact this was the salvation of these children, and it would be far better for them than continuing to be raised in this reprobate Canaanite culture. So I don’t think God wronged anybody in commanding this to be done. He didn’t wrong the adults because they were deserving of capital punishment. He didn’t wrong the children – if there were any that were killed, which we don’t know – because God has the right to take their lives, and in effect they were recipients of a great good. So I don’t think anybody that was morally wronged in this affair.
Given this belief, how could one feasibly object to aborting pregnancies? Once dead, the souls of fetuses would go straight to heaven. Indeed, if we can imagine that the souls of infants and toddlers who die in their initial years go straight to heaven, what’s to keep us from imagining that the souls of aborted fetuses also go straight to heaven? Abortion, then, given Christianity’s premises, could at worst be a first-class ticket to the Pearly Gates and beyond, into the wonder-kingdom of the Christian god’s everlasting paradise.
I’m sure glad these aren’t my problems!
by Dawson Bethrick