Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask
- Monday, October 18, 2010
Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?
An orderly society is dependent on a generally accepted morality. There can be no such morality without religion. Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?
Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! The best answer we can ever hear from secularists to this question is a hodgepodge of strained relativist talk of situational ethics. They can cite no overriding authority other than that of fashion. For the great majority in the West, it is the Judeo-Christian tradition which offers a template.
We have, then, what is sometimes called the problem of good. The problem of good is a major challenge for atheism, for within the atheist view there simply is no way to explain or justify objective moral values.
When I read about or travel to other parts of the world, I'm often intrigued by the differences in etiquette. In India, many nationals do not use utensils to eat; they use their fingers instead. It would probably be rude in those contexts to whip out my travel mess kit and eat in front of them with fork and spoon. We should respect the differences in etiquette that have been created by various people groups and societies.
But morals and values are different from etiquette, and we all know it. They are not the creations of human beings. As we've said, they are objective, not relative—so they are above us and our particular laws and practices. If there were a culture, for example, that threw their firstborn male babies into the flames in order to gain the favor of the gods, this would be a morally dreadful act. If there were a culture in which men kept females as slaves and beat and raped them at will, we would be morally outraged. If there were a culture that locked up black people for their color or Jewish people for their heritage or left-handed people for their differentness, we would decry these actions as moral abominations.
If that culture's members objected to our indignation by saying that's just the way people do things in their culture—it's their tradition or custom or preference—we would flat-out reject their answer. We know that murder and rape and bigotry and racism are wrong—really, objectively wrong—regardless of traditions, customs, or preferences. But where did we get this knowledge—this intrinsic sense of right and wrong? If we didn't invent it, if it transcends the realms of culture and politics, if it's something we can't get away from, then what is its source? Could it be that a Moral Lawgiver actually knit those moral standards, along with the ability to understand and operate by them, into the very fabric of what it means to be human?
That conclusion certainly seems to square with logic and experience. It explains why we could boldly tell the Nazis that exterminating Jews was wrong and that they deserved to be punished for such wicked acts. And why we knew that Saddam Hussein was doing evil when he oppressed the Iraqi people, murdered his own family members, tortured and killed those he considered political threats, and ordered the gassing of thousands of Kurds. Our confident conviction about these matters—then and now—shows that morals are objective, not relative.
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