Monday, December 27, 2010

A Wonderful Atheist Life? or, Atheist Delusions, Abridged

While I'm not sure that capitalism and the Enlightenment are entirely wonderful things, there's a lot here that bears pondering. You might say it's a Reader's Digest version of David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions

It’s a Wonderful Atheist Life?

Watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the zillionith time last weekend, and still loving every minute of it, a thought struck me: Could an atheist or an atheistic culture have produced such a movie? Most of us would probably consider that a rhetorical question, with no as the obvious answer. This is also partly inspired by a book I read not long ago, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, and one I’m reading now, The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West.

Many modern atheists and agnostics, especially the most vociferous, argue that religion is a dangerous delusion and mostly destructive force. Yet what exactly has atheism given the world? What does asserting a Godless universe inspire in human culture? Your average atheist would probably say, saving us from religion, and mostly Christianity. And being a Christian, living in the West, that is what I refer to when I say religion.

The enemies of religious belief are fond of citing the Inquisition as an example of the evils of religious intolerance and dogma. Recently I heard a figure of 3,000 people being killed, but even if we say that number is 30,000, or 300,000, and even though Christians have done other nasty things over the centuries, that record isn’t even in the same universe as the number of casualties of state-sponsored atheism in the twentieth century.

For some reason, which atheists alone claim to own (i.e., reason), Christianity bears complete blame as a de facto cause of something like the Inquisition, yet atheism stands blameless for the atrocities of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, et al. So in the contest of producing evil, death, and destruction, atheism wins hands-down. Atheism claimed more than 100 million victims in a single century, a staggering number that our atheist friends simply ignore or claim, on their spotless authority, doesn’t matter, doesn’t apply, or says absolutely nothing about the atheistic faith.

Does that sound logical to you?

In addition to that Christian-inspired holiday favorite film and many others, what else has Christianity given the world? How about Western culture, and all the art, music, and stories that have come down to us because of Christianity’s influence? Does anyone really think that atheism would have given the world Shakespeare? Or Bach? Or Michelangelo or Rembrandt?

Who was it that saved the documents and knowledge of antiquity? Medieval monks and the Catholic Church. We would know very little of ancient Greece and Rome without them.

How about science? Despite what atheists continually assert, the foundations of modern science were produced by men of faith in a personal, creator God. It was the only worldview that could have and in fact did result in science.

How about hospitals and charity? The former were started by Christians, and the latter is acknowledged as a central element of living a Christian life. To this day, those who attend worship services more often give more to charity. What a coincidence!

How about universal literacy? After the Reformation, people were motivated to learn to read because the Bible had been finally made available in the vernacular.

How about schools? One hundred and six of the first 108 colleges founded in the United States were founded by Christians to teach, among other things, the Christian faith. Those include Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Without the Christian faith there would have been no “Enlightenment,” no Hume or Locke, no Adam Smith and no capitalism. There would not have been any Puritans fleeing persecution to found America, no Washington, Jefferson, or Adams, no liberty and freedom in the founding of the United States. Atheists love to minimize the Christian influence on the Founders, but all the philosophers and thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries swam in a ubiquitously Christian Western culture. Their thinking could not exist without the Christian faith.

Of course the atheist will say this is all beside the point. None of it means Christianity is the truth. Fair enough. But what is it, again, that atheism has given the world? Certainly not a wonderful life.


seeker said...

To be fair, it is not Christianity that gave the world most what you mention, but rather Judaism. Christianity was repeating lessons learned from Jewish scriptures and teachings.

And on the other side, while "Christian" Europe was wallowing in ignorance and filth, non-monotheist Asia and North African had plumbing, daily baths, advanced medical care and science. Not atheist, but also not Christian at all.

Beth B said...

As I understand this article, monotheism in general (Judaism, Christianity and Islam)is the root of the contrast, but the writer admits he is a Western Christian and so speaks from that perspective.

I would argue that Christianity not only repeated but advanced and enlarged the lessons learned from Jewish scriptures and teachings because it was able to correct and complete pagan Greek thought. (See Gilson,"the Intelligence in the service of Christ the King.")

Please don't make the mistake of thinking that the period from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance was entirely the "Dark Ages." That is the myth of the Enlightenment and modernism, a story which is dear to the heart of atheists. The Carolingian Renaissance blended the best of Jewish and Classical cultures to produce the foundation of learning that became the medieval universities, forebears of today's universities. (See Hart's "Atheist Delusions" for further refutation of the modernist narrative.)

And while it is true that non-monotheist Asia and North Africa for several centuries had daily baths, advanced medical care and science, their theological fatalism mitigated against the dignity and freedom of the human person. Some have argued that this is why those areas have been characterized by autocracy rather than democracy.

Beth B said...

P.S. Regarding the "dark ages:" I neglected to point out the tremendous artistic, philosophical, architectural and literary accomplishments of the middle ages.

Furthermore, the roots of modern science can be traced to the Christian middle ages. (See chapter 5, Medieval Religion and Technology, by Lynn Townsend White
"When a Syrian, a Nigerian or a Burmese looks at the Occident, what does he see as really distinctive and valuable?" etc.)

Also, check out

It hardly seems fair to use the term "wallow" to refer to the period from 500-1500! Yes, many people were illiterate, and sanitation was poor, but honestly, was the situation all that much different for Chinese peasants, those in the lower castes of India, or those living in sub-Saharan Africa?