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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Who's afraid of atheism?

Being a religious none is certainly back in style.  Not a nun, a “none” — an atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” Amidst the unprecedenteddecline of American Christianity, this demographic is swiftly ascending in the U.S., adding a whopping 29 million to its numbers in just 10 years. Twenty-nine million in 10 years. There’s no question about it: America is racing towards its post-Christian future at breakneck speeds.

To talk ill of this trend is enough to make die-hard progressives and skeptics cringe. For them, there’s nothing wrong with a post-Christian America. If anything, it’ll be a monumental victory when man finally liberates himself from this ancient superstition. The mission of these militant atheists and secularists is therefore rather clear: to usher in, as Richard Dawkins bluntly puts it, “a world without religion.” For so-called “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Sam Harris, toleration isn’t an option. Indeed, the title of a 2006 article by Harris says it all: “Science Must Destroy Religion.” And as we’ve seen, the movement’s succeeding beyond its wildest dreams.

But the frantic speed of social change has left us in such a daze that we’ve forgotten to ask ourselves what it would all cost. Indeed, the popularization of the post-Christian and postmodern worldview threatens the very core assumptions that have defined the West and made it thrive. If atheists like Dawkins win the day, we’ll have traded the Christian system of hope, freedom and love for the utter bareness of atheism. Let me explain.

In atheistic evolution, man is nothing special, just another rung on the ladder of “progress,” and when we are gone, we’ll have been just a blip, an Ozymandias, in the universe. Our existence is, at its core, meaningless because we evolved from a meaningless, unintelligent process.

See how easily, then, the case and incentive to be moral collapses under such a framework. There’s no point in “[loving] thy neighbor” — except when it’s in one’s interest. After all, as Dawkins once penned, “DNA neither knows nor cares” about such things, “DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” Absent purpose from God, life turns into no more than a grubby competition for power and a reckless pursuit of self-indulgence. This isn’t to say atheists can’t be moral, but that those who are, as Ravi Zacharias suggested, “merely [live] better than his or her philosophy warrants.”

Beyond that, the very idea of an objective morality even existing in a purposeless world is utterly ludicrous. Even atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel of NYU admits this, writing, “...an evolutionary self-understanding would almost certainly require us to give up moral realism — the natural conviction that our moral judgments are true or false independent of our beliefs.”  Absent such a moral foundation, there can be no objective good or evil for the materialist. Not even the most vicious and brutal of dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin can be called “evil” in a world where subjective morality and relativism are all we have.

Absent a soul and a heaven and hell, there is no ultimate justice either.  This means bad people (not that we can objectively call them that, but I digress) can get away with atrocities without ever facing a final reckoning, and “good” people are reciprocally never rewarded.  To pretend this will have no implications on human actions is to delude one’s self. The effects can only be tremendously horrific and tragic.

Yet amidst all of this, we still have the audacity to defend equality and freedom. How? In the atheist framework, we simply can’t. Once the Judeo-Christian worldview has been thrown out in America, there can be no firm basis for such lofty things. The Bible tells us we’re all made in God’s image, leading the founders to conclude “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” such as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The bible of naturalism provides no such logical foundation for human rights and freedom. It’s rather the state — not a Higher Power — that arbitrarily ordains its inhabitants with rights, and with as many or as few as it so pleases. Such rights — indeed all rights — are at the mercy of the state, ready to be pulled away at a tyrant’s whim. If the horrors of the 20th Century have taught us anything, it’s that the civilization which abolishes God is far from the paradise it promises to be. It’s one devoid of purpose, liberty and hope. Nothing remains except desolation, oppression and a cold, bleak nihilism.

And the only logical conclusion of atheist thought is indeed nihilism. Everything is meaningless, everything a mere series of chemical reactions. What is emotion, what is love under such a worldview? Nothing, only the biological and the material. It makes no sense, therefore, to be moved by a line of poetry, a piece of artwork or music, a beautiful sunset or by the love you hold for others that’s beyond words. It’s simply irrational, childish and incomprehensible. I trust I don’t have to spell out what this would mean for society.

But what if the atheists are right? What if “reason” is all we have? Even if that was true, atheists — most ironically — couldn’t even trust their own logic. Why? Nagel explained it best: “[e]volutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends.” Christians understand that the foundation of human reason comes from creation by an intelligent God, but for atheists, reason lacks any support, the implications of which I can’t even begin to imagine.

This isn’t to say Western civilization is some utopia of righteousness. Anyone who knows anything about history knows that’s not true. But at the very least religion provides that one must abandon their worldview to achieve their evil ends. The outworkings of atheism lack any such restraint. Maybe this is why Benjamin Franklin, a deist, said“[i]f Men are so wicked as we now see them with Religion[,] what would they be without it?” The Judeo-Christian worldview that has built America provides it the basis for meaning, morality, freedom, universal rights, love, beauty and reason. Atheism has nothing to offer — in both the figurative and literal sense.

To go the way of Dawkins and Harris, to advocate the exile of God and religion from our culture is to effectively take a wrecking ball to all that is noble, right and meaningful. Don’t believe those who say a post-Christian America is a better America. Our nation can’t throw away its foundations and expect to live for long. 

Atheists and secularists promise a Babel once we do away with the halls of religion. They’ll be quite disappointed. There can be no such city. We will but live amidst the wreckage of that which made us great.

Andrew Sveda is a freshman at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh intending to major in Political Science.  Besides politics, Andrew enjoys acting, playing the piano, and tennis. He can be reached at asveda@nd.edu or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.