A few posts back, I jotted down a quick proverb, “He who praises his God, praises himself.” It’s a shorthand way of expressing the fact that God does not show up in real life, and therefore His authority has to be exercised by believers, in His absence, more or less by default. Because of this, any time believers brag about God’s authority, they’re really boasting their own, while maintaining a pose of being humble and submissive. This kind of duplicity is not merely dishonest, but can actually be harmful to the believer’s own moral and ethical sense.
Writing for Baylor University’s Lariat Online, Dr. Roger Olson provides us with a striking example of the damage one’s natural moral sense can suffer when exposed to too much Christian dogma. While he’s at it, he demonstrates a certain impairment in intellectual integrity as well.
We have to recognize atheists’ full freedom to believe God does not exist, but we don’t have to embrace atheism as a social good. In fact, I would argue that atheism has no redeeming social value.
Atheism undermines values. How? Let’s look at care for others. Yes, an individual atheist might care for other people. But when have you heard of an entire atheist organization serving the poor, the sick or the hungry?
So far, at least, atheists haven’t demonstrated their concern for others in any organized way.
So according to Dr. Olson’s Christian ethical system, it’s perfectly ok to slander atheists and tell lies about the number of secular charitable organizations that go around doing good works (CARE, UNICEF, Lions, Shriners, Rotary Club, etc). Secular charities exist, they just don’t boast about their good works as much as Christians do. Christian charitable organizations ignore Jesus’ command to be discrete in charitable works, and instead brag about their giving (even though they’re doing it primarily to convert their “beneficiaries” to their own faith), in part so that people like Dr. Olson can brag about how God motivates people to be charitable.
What Dr. Olson is saying is that acts of charity come exclusively from God. He’s denying that natural human compassion and empathy exist. Christianity has brought him to the point that the only reason he can see for charity is the selfish motive that God offers us by promising a greater reward in heaven (and greater status in the church) for those who do good works. Because he is a Christian, he no longer has any intrinsic, natural motivation to help those in need. The only motive he can conceive of has to be an external motive. At one time, he probably had a normal amount of natural empathy for his fellow man, just as the rest of us do. But long exposure to Christianity has brought him to the point that he can no longer even see the existence of a natural, charitable moral sense in anyone–himself or others.
By the way, Christian charitable organizations are constantly begging for money, and failing to fully carry out their mission due to lack of financial support. Atheists, like a lot of other people, tend to believe that society ought to help the needy, but they’re more likely to support tax-funded (i.e. non-optional) care, which so-called compassionate Christians tend to despise. Apparently God feels better when the needy are kept in a constant state of wondering whether or not their basic human needs are going to be met.
But more importantly, atheism undermines values such as care for others because it cannot explain why anyone should care for others. If there is no God or anything at all above nature, then nature is all there is. The law of nature is survival of the fittest. Why help the less fit survive unless there is a God who loves them because they are created in his image?
It’s sad to see an otherwise intelligent man so intellectually and morally crippled by his faith that he can no longer intelligently discuss the subject of ethics. Where before Dr. Olson was implying the non-existence of human compassion and empathy, he now denies that human life has any value in and of itself. Obviously, if human life had any intrinsic value, then atheists would have a reason to care about it. But in order to praise his God (and thus himself) as the source of compassion, Dr. Olson has to surrender any sense that men and women are valuable and important, including the weak and needy.
The appeal to “survival of the fittest” is particularly pathetic. At best, it’s a scientific observation of how things are, not a ethical mandate of how things should be. Appealing to “survival of the fittest” to justify cruelty is like insisting that umbrellas are immoral because it’s natural to get wet when you go out in the rain, or that indoor plumbing is evil because animals just poop wherever they are. Surely an intelligent person ought to be able to come up with a better ethical basis than that! Even if they’re Christian.
What argument can atheism marshal against “might makes right”?
Kind of ironic, coming from someone who thinks God gets to decide morality because He’s omnipotent. The atheist answer is simple: most of us aren’t mighty, and therefore can make the impartial and verifiable observation that might makes mistakes as often as meek does. Christians are using their current political power to oppress gays and justify the war in Iraq, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.
Many atheists argue that caring for others can be encouraged based on self-interest.
But what answer can an atheist give (that is consistent with atheism) to the question, “What if I figure out a way to be personally happy and fulfilled while oppressing other people?”
There is no answer to that without appeal to someone transcendent to whom we are all accountable.
Not without using a bit of insight and plain old common sense, anyway. The answer is that if you figure out a way to be personally happy and fulfilled while oppressing other people, and you put it into practice, the rest of us will think you are evil, and our assessment of you will endure longer than you will. Humanity remembers that kind of thing, which is where our morality comes from in the first place. Plus that kind of thinking inevitably isolates you. Do you think Saddam was happy and fulfilled before the invasion? In real life, oppression does not produce happiness and fulfillment. Olson’s notion of fulfillment through persecution is an unrealistic fantasy.
And atheism has no answer to social Darwinism — the idea that society should not help the weak because it’s nature’s way to weed out the less fit.
Helping the weak goes against nature and if nature is all there is, well, why should we fight it? A person might choose to, but not because of any transcendent, objective obligation (such as that all persons are created in God’s image).
You know what? The Bible says nothing–nothing–about indoor toilets. If this is the best Dr. Olson’s Gospel-based ethics can come up with, he ought to be crapping on his own carpet, or in his bed at night. Nature is God’s revelation too, after all. And God is supposedly is the Lawgiver for the laws of nature. Modern sanitary facilities go against nature (and thus against God) just as much as helping the weak does, and even more so, since most of us have a natural sense of compassion and empathy for our fellow humans.
Honestly, can you believe that a PhD university professor would seriously post such silliness? But he can’t help it: his own natural moral sense has been corrupted by the Christian need to boast in God (and thus in themselves).
Not only does atheism undermine values; it also undermines meaning. I’m talking about meaningful reality — life with meaning and purpose…
The only logical option for the atheist is nihilism — belief that nothing has any objective meaning or purpose.
Küng admitted that atheism is a rational “basic choice” and it cannot be proven wrong in any kind of absolute way.
But most atheists demonstrate their basic trust in the meaningfulness of reality by being outraged at evil and injustice, thereby demonstrating that atheism cannot be lived out consistently.
The only thing Olson is demonstrating is his own confusion. The “meaningfulness of reality” is rooted in the fact that things have meaning in and of themselves. Olson is forced to deny this in order to claim that his God is the only source for meaning in reality. Sunsets are not beautiful, pain does not hurt, food does not satisfy hunger, in and of themselves. Rape is not wrong, genocide is not evil, lying is not bad, in and of themselves. The only meaning that Dr. Olson finds in life is whatever arbitrary meaning some third-party God feels like assigning to things at the time. Which is why, for example, it was “good” for God to order the complete and utter genocide of the Amalekites, and why it was “evil” for Saul to fail to take this genocide to the extreme of killing all their animals as well as their men, women and children.
What makes something evil or unjust if nothing like God exists — if nature is all there is? Only subjective choice either by an individual or a society. But that can change and it often does. Without God, the social prophet has no way out of relativism.
Dr. Olson’s “stumper” is not even a difficult question. What makes a thing evil and unjust are the consequences. That’s why genocide is wrong in the Old Testament and it’s still wrong today. That’s why lying is wrong even when you’re saying things that make the Gospel sound better. That’s why we can say that there are some things that would be evil even if God did them–it’s not up to God, it’s up to the consequences.
This is not an intellectually difficult concept to grasp. Society gets its sense of moral right and wrong by its experience of the consequences of things. God does not show up in real life, so we even get our idea of what God’s morals are by seeing what consequences result (for example, in the case of drug abuse and and software piracy, neither of which is mentioned in the Bible). But Dr. Olson can’t see it. He’s lost his natural moral sense, his instinctive sense of compassion for the needy, and his ability to perceive the value of human individuals in and of themselves, all because of his faith.
Christianity is morally corrosive.