Over the past year or so, I have watched a good number of YouTube videos featuring an Atheist Experience host called Tracie Harris. Atheists often pull clips from her videos to create their own videos, with titles such as “Trac(ie)’s Great Point” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz-8Wk97S9A) and “7 Times Tracie Harris Went Beast Mode” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxBwBPHHqig&t=601s). I watched these clips and identified two areas that I am going to address from a Christian perspective in the present blog.
Does God Lock the Door?
The first “great” point that Harris makes is that she has no way to assess the “truth” of the “reality” of theist’s “claims.” She says that if one claims that there is a chair in a room, she should be able to go into the room to verify the truth on whether a chair is present as claimed. She claims that she can’t check the presence of the chair, though, because the “door is locked” so she has no “access to the chair” and she can’t “get through that locked door.” These assertions are based on the assumption that God locks the door on people.
The Bible makes it clear that information about God is readily available to civilization. Romans 1:19-23 states, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
This strong passage implies that people like Harris may have intentionally suppressed their knowledge of God. If this is the case, we should find evidence that she has chosen to neither glorify nor give thanks to God (as the passage indicates). If confirmed, it is not that God has locked the door; it is that she has locked the door to God.
What Evidence Do We Have That Harris Has Locked the Door to God?
In the “beast mode” videos and many other videos from the Atheist Experience Show, Harris has presented a situation about some evil in the world, whether it be related to her perceptions of evil in the Old Testament via passages pulled out of context or evil in the present via some of the horrific acts that humans have perpetuated on one another. After capitalizing on the emotions of listeners to incite disgust, she boldly proclaims that she is “more moral than your God.”
Such a proclamation requires two responses:
(1) How can Harris apply her atheistic relative moral values to make a judgment on the morality of people who lived thousands of years ago in a far different culture and context than our present culture and context?
(2) Does evil serve any purpose in this world?
Atheistic Relative Moral Values
Objective moral standards are distinguished from relative moral values in that the former are standards against which we judge actions (which do not vary as a function of our opinion of them) while the latter are culturally contingent values. Atheists often apply relative moral values to suggest that all cultures can be judged relative to that which is acceptable in those cultures, yet this viewpoint necessitates non-judgment between a culture of one era and location and a culture from another. It is necessary to consider both objective moral standards and relative values together when making assessments of the past.
In other words, because what the Nazis thought what they were doing was right within their societal context, judging them solely based on a set of relative moral values will force us to conclude that what they did was acceptable and “right.” Since we know what they did was not right, we know that objective moral standards of human equity, equality, and justice need to be applied. Most atheists deny objective moral standards because they are unexplained by evolution and well explained by the presence of an objective moral lawgiver: God. Despite this, they often ignore their own worldview to draw upon our objective moral standards to make judgments about Old Testament morality. Harris provides a case in point.
Atheists often suggest that human evolution explains our preferences for honesty, equity, love, empathy, compassion, and justice. Yet we have examples in both the animal kingdom and humanity of opposing characteristics. We could suggest that preferences for cooperation led to survival advantages so people adapted over thousands of years accordingly. Or we could take a look at the evidence of both individualism and cooperation that is all around us. In other words, we could also make an argument for the survival advantages of those who did not care for their elderly, weak, or sick within societies. We could certainly present a case for selfishness in both the animal kingdom and in humanity.
Cross-cultural scholars such as Geert Hofstede, Shalom Schwartz, Robert House, and Fons Trompenaars have (independently) collected longitudinal data from thousands of participants from dozens of countries to assess cross-cultural variations in values. References are below. Collectively, the authors have identified highly individualistic societies, such as the United States, Germany, and Austria – and highly collective societies, which are primarily in Southeast Asia, the Nordic Region, the Arab region, Africa and South America. Some have also distinguished preferences for gender equality, egalitarianism, hedonism, self-transcendence and self-enhancement. These values vary as a function of the societies in which we’re born and raised. For example, Japan ranks the highest in what Hofstede originally termed “masculinity” as the population as a whole accepts gender inequalities. Sweden ranks the opposite. The United States and western societies tend to rank higher in self-enhancement (hedonism, achievement) than their eastern counterparts, which rank higher in self-transcendence.
Despite the fact that we have significant cross-cultural variation in gender equality, egalitarianism, and self-transcendence, most of humanity realizes that these values are preferable to their counterparts (gender inequality, hierarchy, and self-enhancement). We realize we have an objective moral standard and duty to treat other humans fairly (a.k.a., the “Golden Rule), honestly, equally, and lovingly. So, our evolution does not explain our environment today. We witness examples of both collectivism (cooperation) and individualism yet we know what we need to do to best serve our fellow humans.
How did we come to understand that certain “helping” values are superior to other more selfish values? How do we instinctively know that fairness, truth, and equity are “right?” And how is it that through the centuries, our ancestors have shared the same desire to do “what’s right?” See Plato’s Republic for an interesting viewpoint on this topic. The answer is that solely relying on an atheistic relative moral viewpoint is erroneous. We have objective moral standards and duties that do not vary relative to our opinions on them. The standards of equity and truth do not vary as a function of our opinions about them, for example. Equity and truth are the same today as they were yesterday, hundreds of years ago, and will be tomorrow. Their definitions are not malleable.
We can apply our objective moral standards to make judgment calls about the past, yet we should not forget to consider the context in which we’re making those calls. In other words, we should apply a combination of both objective standards and relative values. Furthermore, we should not be hasty in making judgment calls on cultures about which we know little.
The cultures in the Old Testament and in civilization in general during ancient times were much different than they are today. Slavery was prevalent throughout the Roman Empire and in other cultures worldwide. It was a necessary way of life and sometimes even voluntary. Women were treated as second class citizens, just as they’re still treated today in some Arab countries.
God’s chosen people were given explicit rules on ways to treat both slaves and women (and the sick and the needy) more fairly than their non-Jewish and pagan counterparts. These rules were modified under the New Covenant after the times had changed. Thanks to Christianity, slavery has been eliminated from many parts of the world and women are treated very well in Christian societies today, and we have numerous hospitals and universities founded by Christians that support the health and the welfare and educational advancement of society.
Does Evil Have a Purpose?
According to Tracie Harris and other atheists I have encountered, evil has no purpose in the world. This is consistent with a worldview suggesting that we have no higher spiritual purpose and we are here merely to procreate, survive, and eventually die out when the world comes to an end. Yet from the Christian perspective, we do have a higher spiritual purpose, which is to capitalize on our spiritual gifts and to grow. Our example stems from Christ’s example of obedience, love, humility, and bearing one’s own cross.
Evil in this world sometimes presents extreme challenges, yet overcoming these extreme challenges often leads to stronger, healthier, and more empathetic and loving spirits than we had prior to the experiences. Aside from the extreme trial faced by our Lord and Savior Jesus, witness the extreme trials suffered by people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Harriet Tubman. Their examples provide examples for all of us to emulate. Learning from these servant leaders helps us to grow spiritually.
Accordingly, evil does serve a purpose. Evil, self-enhancement, gender inequalities, and injustice help shape our views on what’s right. Evil helps us to appreciate the values of love, self-transcendence, human equality, and justice. Accordingly, Tracie Harris should not consider herself more moral than our Creator. He is shaping us for greatness.
As the great George MacDonald stated (as quoted in C.S. Lewis, 1946): “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
So we should glorify and give thanks to the Lord – and Tracie Harris should consider unlocking that door.
And thank you for your time.
Lewis, C.S. (1946). The Great Divorce. C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. USA
Hofstede, G. (1980; 2001). Culture’s Consequences. Comparing Values, Behaviors, and Institutions Across Nations. Tilberg University, Netherlands. Sage Publications.
House, R.J., Hanges, P.J. Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W. & Gupta, V. (2004) Culture, Leadership, and Organizations. The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies. Sage Publications.
Schwartz, S.H. (1992). Universals in the Content and Structure of Values: Theoretical Advances and Empirical Tests in Twenty Countries. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 25. Accessed May 28, 2018 at: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.220.3674&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Trompenaars, F. & Hampden-Turner, C. (1993; 2012). Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business. McGraw-Hill Companies.