Why the Heathen Rage
- Monday, December 03, 2007
“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” (The Psalmist)
A New Breed of Atheists
If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that a new, and not wholly pleasant, anti-God movement is afoot. Whereas atheists of yore were noted for rational argument through civil discourse, today’s atheists draw on emotionalism and alarmism with a “take no prisoners” appeal. Judging from their rhetoric, the neo-atheists appear to be angling for an all-out jihad against God and religion.
To awaken the masses from their slumber, Christopher Hitchens asks, “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?”
Convinced that religion is a virulent virus that results in child abuse, Richard Dawkins concludes: “I think there’s something very evil about faith.” And any reasonable person paying attention knows that something’s got to be done.
For Sam Harris, whose books have been published in 10 languages, it’s for scientists to destroy religion. More on that in a moment.
The sudden resurgence of anti-God sentiment has caused some to wonder why religious belief is generating such strong hostilities these days. Recently, I was reminded of the answer.
A few weeks ago, I was engaged in an online dialogue with some religious skeptics. Under discussion were the usual: the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, evidence for the resurrection, and so on. For the most part, the commenters were civil without the animus characterized by the neo-atheist celebs.
After one of the forums was gaveled, a reader remarked on the intensity of the discussion. It suggested something of real importance; maybe something of utmost importance. Just what, he couldn’t say.
I responded that it was the outrageous claims of a carpenter’s son. For a first century Jew, claiming equality with God and forgiving sins were grounds for blasphemy punishable by death. Even in our enlightened day, such behavior would be grounds for committal to a mental institution or dismissal as a megalomaniac or outright fraud. But with Jesus, there is the confounding issue of his teachings.
As C.S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, even among critics, the teachings of Jesus reflect the highest standard of morality known to man. Because of their supreme quality, Jesus’s imperatives are best explained not as products of a deluded or duplicitous mind, but of an intellectually competent person who actually believed what he claimed to be true.
And there lies the rub.
A Problem of Cosmic Authority
If Jesus was right about his divinity, then man is not a morally autonomous happenstance, he’s a special creation, a being that will one day stand before his Creator. It is what Thomas Nagel, NYU law professor and self-described atheist, coined the “cosmic authority problem”:
It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God . . . I hope there is no God . . . I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and is responsible for . . . the overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.
Note that Nagel’s disbelief is not grounded in a rational examination of how the world is, but by the non-rational sensibility of how he feels the world should be. In this regard, Thomas Nagel is not alone.
Folks like Nagel take pride in being members of the “smart set”—the intellectual caste trusting in the omniscience of human reason. But press them ever so slightly and beneath the patina of intellectualism, you will find the non-cognitive: feelings, sentiments and personal preferences. “Dave” (not his real name) is a case in point.
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