John Steinrucken, an atheist writer at the American Thinker, is arguably one of the most honest atheists there might be. This is quite refreshing considering how so many atheists argue thatChristianity is the most wicked thing ever to have been invented. So, coming across Steinrucken’s article made for some pleasant reading (1).
Steinrucken tells us that although “Rational thought may provide better answers to many of life’s riddles than does faith alone” it is still Christianity that “has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition.” This is true in both the context civil rights afforded to all American citizens as well as the major advancements made in the scientific faculties over the past centuries. Steinrucken also believes that the Christian tradition has graciously allowed for him, and his atheist friends, the freedom of opinion & thought, he writes that “open secular thought, depends on the continuance within our society of the Judeo-Christian tradition.” It would seem that Steinrucken believes that if such freedoms are to be continually guaranteed then Christianity needs to remain an influential voice within contemporary society. This also ought to happen as Christianity, although not exempt from misuse by those with certain motives, maintains peace in society as well as in the world at large: “it is the Judeo-Christian tradition which offers a template assuring a life of inner peace toward the world at large — a peace which translates to a workable liberal society.”
He then also praises Christianity for its morals, especially how morality (as a corollary of the Christian tradition) has benefited society at large: “Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?”
Yet he seems aware that secularism has failed to ground moral experience in any objective sense as “There can be no such morality without religion” & “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist!” In other words, naturalistic theories attempting to ground moral values cannot elevate themselves above the realms of moral relativism – in short, moral realism cannot exist on an atheistic worldview. So moral judgments, thoughts & feelings have no objective value on an atheistic worldview whereas Christian theology affirms the existence of objective moral values & duties as an extension of God’s own nature. Steinrucken seems grateful to the Old Testament prophet Moses: “Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?” However, Steinrucken is clearly skeptical of the theories that have been proposed by his fellow secularists: “The best answer we can ever hear from secularists to this question is a hodgepodge of strained relativist talk of situational ethics.”
Yet I cannot fault him on his analysis & I am immensely grateful for his honesty. Most atheists will try and dodge this problem. However, the problem remains for the atheist for since morality is relative he is ultimately in no position to tell others that their views are immoral. He cannot tell the rapist that rape is wrong or the murderer that murder is a moral evil. It might be his opinion that such things are morally evil but they are not objectively evil in any sense; it’s simply personal preference.
Steinrucken notes the value that religion has on the lives of many people, according to him “religious tradition is inextricably woven into their self-awareness. It gives them their identity. It is why those of religious faith are more socially stable and experience less difficulty in forming and maintaining binding attachments than do we secularists.” However, that “Most men do have a need for God” is also why we find other religions such as New Age Spirituality, or some forms of Eastern religious philosophies, increasing in popularity in the West, especially since these are primarily “attempts to fill the spiritual hole” that atheistic philosophies cannot touch.
Steinrucken then argues contrary to what most atheists would be willing to admit, namely that it was an outpouring of a purely atheistic worldview, held by some of humanity’s worst despots, that “has not merely come to naught. [But] Attempts during those two centuries to put into practice utopian visions have caused huge sufferings.”
In short, Steinrucken believes that “Secularism has never offered the people a practical substitute for religion” & that attempts to create religion free (particularly Christian free) societies are mere “justifications for their fantasies.” In fact, Steinrucken goes as far as to ask: “And what harm will come to a child who hears prayer in the schoolroom? I daresay harm is far more likely to come in those places where prayer is not heard.” This is similar to the thoughts shared by the atheist writer Matthew Paris who once claimed that: “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God” (2). Evidently Paris, an atheist, saw the positive benefits that belief in the Christian God brought to those suffering the most in the world, as well as to those in the darkest parts of Africa.
Steinrucken ends with a strong challenge: “This means that our elitists should see that their most valued vested interest is the preservation within our culture of Christianity and Judaism.”
1. Steinrucken, J. 2010. Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity. Available.
2. Parris, M. 2008. As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. Available.