Thursday, March 17, 2011

Atheism is Death to Equality and Other Principles that We Value

Atheists wrongly assume that once they rid society of Christianity, they will be able to retain those features of Christianity they find desirable – equality, justice and compassion. They also erroneously argue that these features aren’t endemic to the Bible, that other societies have also justifiably laid claim to these as they too can.

In contrast, Jewish scholars point to the fact that these values originated with the Bible. Joshua Berman writes:

• “The Pentateuch articulates a new social, political, and religious order, the first to be founded on egalitarian ideals and the notion of a society whose core is a single, uniformly empowered, homogenous class.” (Created Equal, 6)

Meanwhile, the atheist will claim that we inherited our “egalitarian ideals” from the Greeks, even though Moses predated the noteworthy Greek thinkers by 1000 years. Besides, the Greeks weren’t truly egalitarian. Aristotle, for one, insisted that,

• “From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

Only some could be equal. Dinesh D’ Souza adds:

• “Aristotle, too, had a job for low men: slavery. Aristotle argued that with low men in servitude, superior men would have leisure to think and participate in governance of the community. Aristotle cherished the ‘great-souled man’ who was proud, honorable, aristocratic, rich.” (What’s so Great about Christianity)

• [Because of the teachings of the Bible] “For the first time people began to view society not from the perspective of the haughty aristocrat but from that of the ordinary man. This meant that institutions should not focus on giving the rich and high-born new ways to pass their free time; rather, they should emphasize how to give the common man a rich and meaningful life.”

Among more ancient peoples, equality wasn’t even a dream. J.H. Hertz wrote:

• “Among the Oriental peoples, the word “king” connotes an irresponsible despot, vested with unchallenged authority. All law is the expression of his will; and, while it bonds every member of the community, the monarch himself is free to supersede or to disregard it. He owes no formal duties to his subjects and is answerable to none for his actions. To the Eastern mind, a limited monarchy was a contradiction in terms.” (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs)

The Mosaic Law was radically different. The king was no better or any more privileged than any other Israelite:

• He [the king] must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deut. 17:17-20)

Mosaic Law was the great equalizer, making us all debtors to God. The king had to be subject to the law as was everyone else! Berman adds:

• “Observations are legion in the scholarly literature that the limitations of the Israelite king…are without parallel in the ancient Near East. Nowhere else do we find legal curbs on the size of the military, the treasury, and the harem.” (Berman 53)

• “In many cultures in the ancient Near East, the king was considered the son of God, with the implication of adoption or election. Deuteronomy too speaks of sons of God—but these statements refer to Israel as a whole (14:1; 32:6, 18)…all Israelites have the status elsewhere accorded only to the king.” (Berman, 63)

Such laws are never the product of the elite. In the absence of a democracy, it had to come from above! Instead, the elite have historically regarded the legal system as their tool to protect their interests. What a contrast with Biblical revelation! Historian Alvin Schmidt wrote of two poignant illustrations:

• Bishop Ambrose [A.D. 390] told the Emperor that he had to repent for slaughtering 7,000 innocent people. In effect, he told him that even as emperor he was not above the law. Then in 1215 the signing of the Magna Carta, greatly shaped by its Christian formulators, is another example of no one, not even the king, is above the law.

Even the Deist Thomas Jefferson recognized that our liberties required a Biblical foundation:

• “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?” (Notes on the State of Virginia)

What will happen when Biblical thought and values are finally removed as a basis for society? Hertz gives a couple of examples:

• “’Justice must be guided solely by State interests,’ said a Nazi ruler. ‘Every judge must member that his decisions are intended to promote nothing but the prevailing policy of the State’, said a Soviet Commissar”.

While Communism promised to usher in equality, it was ubiquitously lacking in all of its permutations. Why? Of course, the atheist will argue, “Well, atheism doesn’t have to take the form of Nazism or Communism. We can be pragmatic and simply choose those values that work to produce a viable society.” However there are numerous problems with this claim:

1. The atheist assessment of a “good” or “viable society” might not truly be good. Although atheists have the same God-given laws written on their hearts, they often regard these laws as no more than chemical-electrical impulses and not as authoritative messages from above. They therefore might choose laws or values that work – pragmatic considerations – to produce the type of society that they think is best. Therefore, they lack any reason to not gravitate in a Nazi or Communist direction. Perhaps what works will not prove to be equality but top-down control?

2. If pragmatism is the basis for morality, then it shouldn’t be surprising that it is sometimes pragmatic and self-serving to do some horrible things. It’s also very short-sighted.

3. Instead, atheists might embrace the truths of the heart saying, “We know the truths of the conscience as well as you do. Therefore, we too can embrace equality and compassion.” However, this isn’t enough. There are also the dark “truths” of the conscience – revenge, bitterness, selfishness, jealousy, self-righteousness – and these can impose themselves with urgency.

4. The atheistic naturalistic/materialistic worldview provides no support for equality. In fact, it rules against it! If we are to regard others “materialistically” – the only way of measurement available to the atheist – we cannot see equality, but vast differences among people. Some make positive contributions to society, family and relationships; some don’t. Some are even destructive. From this perspective, some are worthy of equal treatment; some aren’t. Some are entitled to respect and some aren’t.

We find an interesting example of this conundrum within psychotherapy. The profession is understandably committed to treating their clients with dignity and respect, without which the therapeutic relationship cannot move forward. However, from the atheistic/materialistic perspective, some of their clients are regarded as contemptible. The therapist must therefore live inconsistently with their materialistic worldview or live as a hypocrite, expressing acceptance but thinking contempt.

In contrast, the Bible provides an additional means of assessing others – all human life is precious and sanctified by the fact that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Consequently, the Christian has the resources to work with others. On the one hand, we can deal honestly with dysfunctional, immoral behavior, while on the other hand, positive regard for our clients rests on the fact that God has endued them with inestimable worth.

The atheist Friedrich Nietzsche detested the Christian faith, especially for its endorsement of equality:

• “Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.” (Will to Power)

Worldviews carry hidden costs, some of which can only be seen after it’s too late. However, the German poet Heinrich Heine – around 1830 – was able to see the approach of Nazism from afar:

• "It is to the great credit of Christianity that it has somewhat attenuated the brutal German lust for battle...And should ever that taming talisman break--the Cross--then will come roaring back the wild madness of the ancient warriors...For thought goes before deed as lightening before thunder. There will be played in Germany a play compared to which the French revolution was but an innocent idyll."

We too should be able to see what’s around the corner.

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