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Opiate of the Morally Corrupt: Why Unbelief is So Appealing
In the previous chapter, we learned about secular morality and its position in our society. D’ Souza says that these very people march “behind the banner of autonomy and self fulfillment” so cover for “selfish and irresponsible behavior”. Today we will be answering a deeper quest, “is unbelief driven by similar motives?” Now when we listen to well known atheists, they often say that they do not believe in God because “He does not meet the requirements of reason”. Philosopher Bertrand Russell once said he’d tell God “Sir, you did not give me enough evidence”. So is unbelief really driven by these very motives?
In the past chapters, we discussed how atheists attempts to “give physiological reasons for the religious commitment of believers”. Karl Marx even suggested that religion is “the opium of the people”. We learned before of the idea of “escapism” or “mode of wish fulfillment”. French atheist Michael Onfray says “God is a fiction invented by men so as not to confront the reality of their condition”. However, these explanations doesn’t entirely answer the question. Theologian R.C Sproul makes a starting point “why would the disciples invent a God whose holiness was more terrifying than the forces of nature that provoked them to invent a God in the first place?” For example, the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam demands of us “purity rather than indulgence, virtue rather than convenience, charity rather than self- gratification”. If once chooses to indulge in these kinds of “sins” we face serious risks like eternal damnation. So in the case of “wish fulfillment” it can explain heaven, but how does it explain hell? D’ Souza asks “if Christianity is so great, why aren’t more people rushing to embrace it?”
Some atheists admit that they “would prefer a universe in which there were no God, no immortal soul, and no afterlife”. Philosopher Thomas Nagel confesses to “fear of religion itself” and says “I want atheism to be true… it isn’t just that I don’t believe in God; I don’t want the universe to be like that”. Biologist Stephen Jay Gould explains that while we search for a higher answer, none exists. “This explanation, though superficially troubling if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating”. Although it may seem like bad news it’s actually good news to atheists, as they see it as a form of “emancipation”. They believe that they are being emancipated from religion.
Today, we will be examining more closely to “the real motives behind modern atheism”. D’ Souza notes that there are deeper motives than what is known towards famous atheist figures. For instance, many people believe that Darwin lost his faith after determining that natural selection is “responsible for the evolution of life forms”. However, Darwin says it himself that he lost faith “because he could not endure the Christian notion of eternal damnation”. But, we also learn from his writings that Darwin suffered a tragic death of his 10 yr old daughter Annie. We can possibly conclude that perhaps he could not forgive God. “Atheism, in some cases, is a form of revenge”. While this is not the major role of unbelief we can understand it better by looking at history.
Ancient philosophers Epicurus, Democritus and Lucretius were pre-Socratics that “believed that material reality is all there is”. However, during that time there was no real scientific evidence that backed their “mechanistic claims about the natural world”. So why were they adamant to teach these ideas without any real “empirical bases”? Epicurus admitted that “his goal is to get rid of the gods”. Lucretius also writes “of the heavy yoke of religion, imposing on man such burdens as duty and responsibility”. The reason why both persons’ were so insistent in getting rid of religion is because “they seek to enforce their rules and thereby create anxiety in human beings. They threaten to punish us for our misdeeds, both in this life and in the next. The problem with immorality is that there may be suffering in the afterlife”. Epicurus believed that putting forward a strictly material reality, will “free man from such worries and allow him to focus on the pleasures of this life”.
Moving on to Darwinism, the reason why many people are attracted to this idea is because Darwin himself wrote “he who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke”. When he said this, he meant that by understanding our “animal nature” we will change the way we look towards morality. We eliminate the concept that humans are higher than other creatures and instead “place man on a continuum with the animals”. Thus by believing in Darwinism gives the opportunity to “break free of the confines of traditional morality”. Biologist Julian Huxley (grandson of Darwin’s friend) and Thomas Henry Huxley says “The sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a supernatural being is enormous”. By this very statement, we can see the reason why atheists especially target the Christian God “is to avoid having to answer in the next life for their lack of moral restraint in this one”. Christianity calls for accountability for our actions. For instance, Revelation 21:8 says “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolater, and all liars, their lot shall be the lake the burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death”. D’ Souza points out, that this passage and many others show that “death does not bring extinction but accountability”.
Before we move on, we must note the attribute of Christianity that atheists have latched onto. Many people perceive Christianity as the religion of love and forgiveness. However, the love and forgiveness are “temporal” or in another words “conditional”. The gospel, also known as the “good news” contains how we can be saved, yet it also delivers warnings. For instance in John 3:20 it states “everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed”. D’ Souza says “The point here is not that atheists do more evil than others, but rather that atheism provides a hiding place for those who do not want to acknowledge and repent of their sins”.
This sort of “emancipation” or “liberation” was perhaps best understood by Nietzsche. While many modern atheists believe that the death of God wouldn’t kill morality, Nietzsche believed that it would. “As God is the source for the moral law, His death means that the ground has been swept out from under us”. While many people feared this idea of no man’s land, Nietzsche welcomed it. He believed that this will “enable us for the first time to escape guilt. It vanquishes the dragon of obligation. It enables us to live beyond good and evil”.
One of the central reasons why many atheists break from Christianity is because of the restriction towards sex. Hitchens writes “the divorce between the sexual life and fear… can now at last be attempted on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse”. Unfortunately, if sex is taken away from “moral restraints” then there are going to be “unwanted pregnancies”. This brings “atheisms second sacrament, which is abortion”. D’ Souza notes that “the real horror of abortion is not that a woman kills an unborn child but that a woman kills her own unborn child”. In a popular article in the New York Times, Steven Pinker explains with the explanation of evolution, why it isn’t such a serious matter for “mothers to kill their newborn children, even after they are out of the womb”. Pinker writes this article, after a teenage girl gave birth to a child and then dumped the baby in the trash. He writes that “a capacity for neonaticide is built into the biological design of our parental emotions, therefore if a newborn is sickly or if its survival is not promising, they should cut their losses and favor the healthiest in the litter or try again later on”.
While it may be bizarre to see such attitude towards human life, especially in a society where compassion is valued; D’ Souza suggests that “it is precisely because we are so awful in private lives that we need to pretend to be virtuous in our public lives”.
Atheism is not an “intellectual revolt” it is a “moral revolt”. God is just seen as someone getting in the way of life’s pleasures. D’ Souza concludes with the “perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern follow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheist seeks to get rid of moral judgment by getting rid of the judge”.
1) Many atheists attribute their rejection of God to an absence of evidence. Why is this an incomplete or inadequate explanation of atheistic motives?
2) Atheists typically explain the motives of religious believers by appealing to the idea of wish fulfillment. Why is this an implausible explanation of Judaism and Christianity?
3) Did Darwin lose his faith when he discovered evolution? If not, can we distinguish Darwin’s scientific work from his personal rejection of God? How?
4) “Atheism… is the opiate of the morally corrupt”. Does this mean that all atheists are immoral? Explain your answer.
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