In 2012, a survey of the European Union by Eurobarometer found that 16 percent identified as nonbelievers/agnostics, while 7 percent identified as atheists. In a survey of 65 countries conducted by Gallup International and the WI Network of Market Research of 63,898 people, researchers found China to be the world’s least religious country (90 percent claim to be atheists or non-religious) followed by Sweden (76 percent) and the Czech Republic (75 percent). The percentages of atheists and agnostics in the United States have also been trending upward, from 2 percent (atheists) and 3 percent (agnostics) in 2009 to 4 percent (atheists) and 5 percent (agnostics) in 2018/2019.
As the Western world moves further away from the Christian Church towards agnosticism, atheism, and secular humanism, the intrinsic value of all individuals as equally endowed by their Creator is increasingly supplanted by an extrinsic, impersonal devaluation of human life. This trend has been witnessed when women in the streets of Ireland cheered the passing of the abortion bill and their “rights” to take the lives of the inconvenient young people within them. This trend has also been witnessed in Switzerland where physician-assisted suicide is not limited by a required diagnosis, age, or symptom state. Some countries require that the patient be terminally ill or have unbearable suffering. Not Switzerland. Other Western societies such as Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands have also witnessed skyrocketing rates of euthanasia, which is a grave concern. In 2017, a quarter of all deaths in the Netherlands were induced! The devaluation of human life is also evidenced by internet porn addiction. According to Psychguides.com, 40 million U.S. adults visit porn internet sites on a regular basis and 88 percent of porn scenes contain some form of physical aggression. The legalization of prostitution in numerous Western countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Greece and France, offers more evidence. In all of these cases, the purity and sanctity of human life has been corrupted by a treatment of our bodies as mere objects, pounds of flesh, clumps of cells, terminations of pregnancies and animals.
I have frequently encountered atheists, such as David Smalley, who claim that animals are not merely equal to humans; they’re superior. In a recent video on my YouTube channel, Smalley identified the simplistic actions of a few mammals and an octopus to suggest they were smarter than humans. At first blush, his assertions make one snicker. Animals cannot engage in higher level reasoning or plan extensively for the future or their deaths. They cannot build rockets to fly to the moon, skyscrapers to reach into the clouds or iPhones to engage in exchanges with other humans on social media. Animals do not apprehend abstract art or beauty in nature as we do. Animals have no accountability when they forcibly copulate, steal from, or kill other animals. As an example, male gorillas often kill their offspring, yet they are not ostracized by their peers when they do so. Despite these protests, I discovered that David Smalley was dead serious. He claims that since humans are contributing to climate change, animals have superior intellects. Of course, his assertion ignores the methane their droppings contribute to air quality, but that’s a topic for another day. He and other atheists and agnostics flatly reject the idea that humans are exceptional. They deny that we are made in the image of God.
How did we get here? Max Weber made an interesting observation in 1905 in The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He noticed that the Catholics had made significant time and financial investments in the architecture of their churches in places such as France, Spain and Italy. Beautiful, majestic churches dot the cities and country sides throughout Southern Europe. The most beautiful and awe-inspiring church I have ever been in was in Milan: The Piazza Duomo. When I walked through the doors of this regal and breathtaking structure, I was immediately humbled and jolted as my thirst was quenched by the holy water of the Lord. These great buildings contrast the thrifty inornate boxes of many Protestant churches in Germany (where Max Weber resided) and other countries of Western and Northern Europe.
When I first read his book around 15 years ago, I considered his point that the Protestants were focused on a strong work ethic, thrift, and prosperity while the Catholics were more focused on “the meek shall inherit the world.” To that end, he asserted that the Catholics were less likely to be entrepreneurial and to invest in businesses and more likely to invest in their church buildings. He pointed to capitalism in the United States and Ben Franklin as the outcomes of entrepreneurial Protestant investments. The Catholic Church is a hierarchy directed from Rome, while the Protestant Church is more egalitarian and decentralized.
The decline in religiosity in Northern and Western Europe beggars the question: were the Catholics right all along? Perhaps we need to be awestruck and humbled. Perhaps the Coronavirus pandemic is God’s wake-up call to the world. As C.S. Lewis has said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity is important here. People who have high levels of intrinsic religiosity focus on their relationship with God, while people who have high levels of extrinsic religiosity focus on what the church can do for them. As President John F. Kennedy once said (and I will tweak for this point), “Ask not what your God and church can do for you, but what you can do for your God and church.” Those high in extrinsic religiosity go to the church for its extrinsic benefits and community, while those high in intrinsic religiosity go to church for an intrinsic relationship with God. Intrinsic religiosity has been demonstrated to have numerous health benefits. Perhaps it’s the former group who have largely left the churches in Europe. As the West has become increasingly wealthy and the church is no longer needed for its provisions (and governments, with their generous social safety nets have supplanted the church), the sunny day church fans have determined that Sunday mornings are better spent in bed. To illustrate this point, consider Sweden. According to cross-cultural scholars such as Geert Hofstede and Shalom Schwartz, Sweden has very high levels of feminism and egalitarianism. Their generous social safety nets far exceed those of the United States. Both parents are entitled to 240 days of paid leave after the birth of their child in Sweden. In the U.S., workers are entitled to 12 weeks (84 days) of unpaid leave. The government helps the poor and sick in Sweden, while in the U.S., individuals are called to contribute donations to their churches and other humanitarian organizations. Sweden’s healthcare system is mainly government-funded, universal and decentralized, while the U.S. is the only developed country in the world that hasn’t provided its citizens universal healthcare. An interesting and perhaps related point is that the U.S. has the highest levels of religiosity and Christianity of any other highly developed, wealthy country in the West. It is an outlier. And its relatively high levels of religiosity undoubtedly annoy the 4 percent of its population who have self-identified as atheists.
Ron Inglehart of the University of Michigan has been administering The World Values Survey since 1981. He has identified what he calls “Euro-secularization,” which is the trend away from “traditional/religious” values toward more “secular/rational” values. When I first came upon his work in 2002, I believed this movement was positive. I had myself been trending away from religion to a more “rational” spiritual position. Yet now I see the flaws in my thinking. The trend to Euro-secularization has not been a net benefit for Europe. Atheism has been the outcome and when an atheist takes his position to its logical conclusion, nihilism results.
Let us not forget that Friedrich Nietzsche portended what the world would be like without God. In the Godless communist regimes of the USSR, China and Cambodia, estimates indicate that around 120 million perished in the last century. Here is what the U.S. Library of Congress states happened, which seems to have been lost on too many teaching history today:
“The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools. Actions toward particular religions, however, were determined by State interests, and most organized religions were never outlawed.”
“The main target of the anti-religious campaign in the 1920s and 1930s was the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the largest number of faithful. Nearly all of its clergy, and many of its believers, were shot or sent to labor camps. Theological schools were closed, and church publications were prohibited. By 1939 only about 500 of over 50,000 churches remained open.”
“After Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin revived the Russian Orthodox Church to intensify patriotic support for the war effort. By 1957 about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches had become active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated his own campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church and forced the closure of about 12,000 churches. By 1985 fewer than 7,000 churches remained active. Members of the church hierarchy were jailed or forced out, their places taken by docile clergy, many of whom had ties with the KGB.”
“Campaigns against other religions were closely associated with particular nationalities, especially if they recognized a foreign religious authority such as the Pope. By 1926, the Roman Catholic Church had no bishops left in the Soviet Union, and by 1941 only two of the almost 1,200 churches that had existed in 1917, mostly in Lithuania, were still active. The Ukrainian Catholic Church (Uniate), linked with Ukrainian nationalism, was forcibly subordinated in 1946 to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches of Belorussia and Ukraine were suppressed twice, in the late 1920s and again in 1944.”
“Attacks on Judaism were endemic throughout the Soviet period, and the organized practice of Judaism became almost impossible. Protestant denominations and other sects were also persecuted. The All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists, established by the government in 1944, typically was forced to confine its activities to the narrow act of worship and denied most opportunities for religious teaching and publication. Fearful of a pan-Islamic movement, the Soviet regime systematically suppressed Islam by force, until 1941. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union that year led the government to adopt a policy of official toleration of Islam while actively encouraging atheism among Muslims.”
In modern times, many atheists and agnostics have relabeled themselves as secular humanists, which is an attempt to smuggle in some Christian values while ignoring the Christian God. According to SecularHumanism.org, secular humanism is a “comprehensive, non-religious life stance incorporating (1) a naturalistic philosophy, (2) a cosmic outlook rooted in science, and (3) a consequentialist ethical system.” Its tenets are deeply flawed, as I will explicate next.
A Naturalistic Philosophy
A naturalistic position is a position where people believe that everything we experience can be explained by natural causes or properties, excluding supernatural or spiritual explanations. People who endorse naturalism believe that everything can be explained by science. This belief is also known as scientism.
Naturalism is flawed because it fails to explain our conscience, spirituality, laws of logic, objective (stance-independent) moral values and duties, consciousness, apprehension of aesthetics (art and beauty), reasoning, mathematical principles, apprehension of abstract concepts, dreams, and appreciation for virtues such as love, empathy, honesty, forgiveness, equality of opportunities, equity, and justice. In other words, naturalism fails to explain numerous important aspects of our daily lives.
A Cosmic Outlook
According to SecularHumanism.org, “Secular humanism provides a cosmic outlook—a world-view in the broadest sense, grounding our lives in the context of our universe and relying on methods demonstrated by science. Secular humanists see themselves as undesigned, unintended beings who arose through evolution, possessing unique attributes of self-awareness and moral agency.”
This relates to a famous phrase by atheist Richard Dawkins: “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
A “cosmic outlook rooted in science” sounds impressive, yet this outlook alone is not enough to explain the depth and breadth of humanity. Are we mere pounds of flesh or are we individuals who actively seek agency, meaning, purpose, love, and the truth? Are we just the lucky beneficiaries of cosmic accidents who miraculously evolved from primordial soup into conscious beings whose DNA sequence consists of 3.5 billion well-ordered “letters?” If you saw the words “I love you” written on the beach, would you assume they accidentally appeared from varying ocean tides or would you assume a mind was behind the statement? Now imagine a logical sequence, or “sentence,” with “words” containing 3.5 billion letters. DNA is a code and a code does not come without a coder. Give the Coder credit where credit is due.
Once one pursues the truth and the Lord makes Himself even more obvious than nature has revealed, the world opens one’s eyes to see everything differently. As C.S. Lewis has said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” Nature becomes more vivid as the colors of the grasses become greener and the sky bluer. Flowers, mountains, rainbows, palm trees, the sea, and the stars appear as the handiwork of a Creator who appreciates beauty and who loves His creation.
A Consequentialist Ethical System
Our conscience further speaks to God’s intense love for us. The moral argument states that if we have objective moral values and duties that transcend eras and cultures, we must have an objective and transcendent moral lawgiver. Numerous studies have indicated we have objective moral values and duties to follow the Golden Rule and these transcend people and generations. Accordingly, we have a Divine moral lawgiver.
What are objective moral values and duties? To be objective is to state that moral values and duties do not change as a function of anyone’s opinions. They are stance-independent. Objective moral values refer to values that are objectively good or bad, while objective moral duties refer to duties that are objectively right or wrong. Moral values are descriptive, or “as is,” while moral duties are prescriptive, or what “ought” to be. Objective moral values include the values of life, liberty, love, truth, justice, equality of opportunities and equity. Objective moral duties include the duty to love the Lord above all else, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to follow the Golden Rule. In the United States, our founding fathers held certain truths to be self-evident: life, liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness. Over time, we discover these now axiomatic values as we live, learn, and love.
Whether objective morality exists is an ontological question. Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being. Moral ontology asks whether morals exist independently to be discovered by people. How we come to believe in certain moral values and duties and whether we are justified in these beliefs is an epistemological question. I will next focus on the ontological question of whether objective morality exists.
In the concentration camps of Nazi Germany in the 1940s, the security guards routinely starved Jewish prisoners prior to telling them they would be getting a shower. They then packed them into a room like sardines and gassed them to death. This activity is objectively wrong. It is a clear and unjust violation of the prisoners’ human rights to justice, life and liberty. Even if the Nazis won and persisted in their scheme to murder all of the physically and mentally handicapped, the Jews, the gypsies, and anyone else they deemed inferior and all who were left on the planet agreed with them, their actions would still be objectively wrong. The standards of righteousness and values of life and love do not change by people’s opinions. As another example, parents who care for their infants by feeding, bathing, clothing and loving them are acting in ways that are objectively morally right. They are acting in accordance with our moral values to love and protect those in need. Just because someone can identify outliers who believe that parents should not care for their children – or can identify outliers who are bad parents – does not mean we do not have the objective moral values and duties. To put this another way, just because Johnny does not understand or like math does not mean math does not exist. These are two of many examples to support the assertion we have objective moral values and duties.
The next question is in grounding. What is the source of our objective morality? While some atheists are moral relativists who deny objective morality exists, others do not. But instead of grounding it in God, they ground it in consequentialism. Consequentialism is in the normative ethical framework, along with deontology. Deontological ethics state we have certain moral imperatives or duties to do what’s right. These imperatives are grounded in a metaphysical cause. Consequentialism states that the best moral actions are those whose consequences are the most ideal. A form of consequentialism is utilitarianism, which states that the best moral actions are those whose consequences benefit the greatest number of people.
Secular humanists claim the grounding of our objective morality is in the subjective “agreed upon” consequence. For example, Sam Harris states that humans agree that we should maximize our well-being, which he relates to happiness and pleasure. Therefore, he grounds our objective morality in our subjective desires to maximize happiness and pleasure. His argument is circular word play. One cannot say the source of our objective morality is also the subjective, desired consequence. This equates to saying the source of our legal system (lawmakers) is also the desired consequence of our legal system (justice). It would also be equivalent to saying the source of our property rights (government) is also the desired consequence of our property rights (promotion of investment). The mindful source is never also the consequence.
Accordingly, key tenets of secular humanism are flawed as naturalism, scientism, and the grounding of our objective morality in the consequence fail to fully explain the human experience and pass the logical sniff test.
Logical Outcomes of the Secular Humanism
Beyond these arguments, consider the logical outcomes of secular humanism. In their worldview, our moral values and duties are merely social conventions and preferences for particular outcomes. The secular humanist who endorses the idea that all values are relative to one’s culture has no way to justify her belief that Adolf Hitler did anything wrong. Hitler’s society endorsed his lunacy, believing they were right in destroying “lesser” people. The relativist cannot draw from any objective moral standards or universal human rights to state he was wrong because they do not believe we have either.
The secular humanist who endorses objective morality may be able to call on a standard, but he also believes that there is no ultimate punishment for evil. In his worldview, Adolf Hitler will never be punished. He will never face justice for his evil infliction of extreme pain on millions.
Beyond that, why should the secular humanist care about what Hitler did? To them, we’re just blobs of flesh with no ultimate purpose or meaning who are doomed to perish one day. We’re undesigned, uncaused, and no better than the primordial soup from which we came. We are only animals in a global race for survival. With this mindset, they could make the case that the elimination of those Hitler deemed “unfit” left more resources for everyone else in this cruel and evil world. Of course, these latter statements are meant to get your attention, but if we need to kick the beanbag upon which the secular humanist anti-theist resides while furiously banging on his keyboard in a rant against God, let’s do him that favor.
Some secular humanists will claim they want to maximize their time in this world by treating their fellow humans fairly and righteously. But many don’t. Many are also anti-theists who will spend hours on the internet every day bashing anyone who believes in God. They’ll make long YouTube diatribes and will show up in debates about God, devoting their lives to battling believers. Examples include Aron Ra, Matt Dillahunty, David Silverman and Seth Andrews. Many of these types will congregate at the “Faithless Forum” and other similar venues so they can compare notes on what they don’t believe in.
Why? Some are mad at God or had very bad experiences in the church or with other Christians. Some don’t want to live by God’s rules. Some want to be their own god. But all know God exists. Romans 1:20 makes it clear that we have all been given the evidence we need to believe in the existence of God. The book of Romans also makes it clear that if people choose to reject God, He sends a powerful delusion to them so they can live out the consequences of their decision as if God does not exist. Joshua 24:10 tells us we have a choice. We can choose to believe in God or we can choose other gods. But let us not pretend there is no God. His general revelation in nature makes His presence obvious. His specific revelation in Jesus gives us hope, meaning, and love.
Perhaps it’s the cognitive dissonance between knowing God is real and trying to stifle that truth that drives so many to the internet to battle with theists (and most particularly, Christians). We know why Christians spend much time on the internet promoting the way, the truth and the life. We have been called by Jesus to share the Good News with all of the world. We believe our message has eternal consequences. But why do nonbelievers persist? I don’t go to the internet to debate people in Iceland who believe in fairies (a growing trend, by the way) to tell them their beliefs are not true. They’ll discover that for themselves one day. The way these keyboard warriors devote so much of their time to promoting their secular humanism or atheism or anti-theism is curious given how precious their time here is. As David Wood has observed, their anti-theistic efforts highlight the spiritual presence of something much darker within them.
“They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” – Romans 2:15
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