CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Faith is Not Dead Yet

Dec 3, 2002

The Melbourne Age’s regular anti-religion writer, Pamela Bone has issued another salvo against faith. Entitled “The most dangerous force in the world,” (Nov. 30), the militant secularist again wages war against those who think differently than her. She undoubtedly believes she has scored a few hits, but in truth she is well off the mark.

Indeed, the trouble with ideologues of whatever stripe is that they tend to play fast and loose with the facts. Historical fact, for example, is a major casualty in her piece. Her most amazing claim is that found in the title. She goes on to say that religion is even “more dangerous than communism”. This strays as far from the truth as presumably she does from a church.

The facts of history are quite clear. It is secularism that has been the real killer in human history. In the twentieth century alone, there were more people killed in the name of secular ideologies (communism, fascism, etc.) than were killed throughout history because of religious reasons. Soviet communism was responsible for the deaths of at least 100 million people.

Ms Bone goes on to say that “any society that wants to remain civilised should strive to keep all religions private, low-key and unpromoted or supported by the state”. Again, history tells us otherwise. One religion in particular, Christianity, has in fact been the driving force behind civilisation. There would be no Western civilization if not for Christianity. Almost every blessing of civilised societies can be traced, in part at least, to the Christian world view. This is documented in numerous places, most recently in Under the Influence by Alvin Schmidt and Paul Meier.

If Ms Bone wants society to be civilised, she needs to offer the opposite advice. It is exactly because Christians did not privatise their faith, but sought to transform the world for the better, that we now enjoy the many benefits of Western civilisation.

Ms Bone regularly defends political freedoms and a rights-based legal code as the hallmarks of a civilised society. From where does she think such concepts emerged? They did not arise spontaneously. Their origins can be discerned in the earliest Christian theology and, however imperfectly the pre-modern church applied such thinking, there is a direct link between the Judeo-Christian view of the intrinsic value of every person and the freedoms we in the West enjoy today.

She also argues that “religion needs to be kept right out of politics”. Wrong again, if civilisation is what she is after. It was the very public faith of politicians such as William Wilberforce that lead to so much social betterment; in his case the end of slavery. Countless other Christian politicians helped to make the world a much better, and much more civilised place.

The argumentation in her column continues to deteriorate, however. She mentions how evolutionary psychologists now say religious tendencies are inherited. “I trust God will excuse from purgatory or hell those who have not been given the right genes” she quips. But this comment simply further undermines her case.

What else but evolutionary determinism can Ms Bone hold to if her radical secularism is indeed true? Surely she is a committed Darwinian. If so, and if the evolutionary biologists are correct, then the religious believer can do no other: his genes made him a believer. Likewise, the atheist is pre-programmed to be just that. Neither one is right or wrong – they both just happen to be hot-wired that way.

In which case why does Ms Bone waste so much ink trying to dissuade so many people against their religious convictions (some three-quarters of the Australian population) if they simply can’t help it? And if it is really the survival of the fittest, why does Ms Bone object to a religious majority trumping a secular minority?

She concludes her anti-faith diatribe with what to many must seem as special pleading, or wishful thinking. She writes, evidently with a straight face, that “Nothing invests life with more meaning than the belief that there is no other”. Really? Is it just a coincidence that with the rise in secularism we also have a rise in all the social pathologies: drug abuse, suicide, violence, and mind-numbing entertainment?

If it really is true that we are here for no purpose, with no history to encourage us and no future to inspire us, then such self-destructive behaviour makes perfect sense. As St. Paul wrote 2000 years ago, if there is no afterlife, “we are of people most miserable”. If this life is all there is, then ‘let us eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’.

True, for some believers, knowledge of the world to come can be a cop-out: pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye (or being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good). But most believers have let their hope for the world to come influence the world they currently live in. It is exactly because many people realise that every right will be rewarded, and every wrong punished, that struggles for justice and reconciliation can continue, even in a very unjust and unequal world.

The nihilism and despair everywhere so evident among today’s young people bears testimony to the fact that the recent grand experiment to eradicate God from Western culture has been calamitous. Religion has certainly contributed its share of misery, but a careful examination of the historical record reveals that on balance, it (in particular, the Christian religion) has been a force for good in the world, and that as much, if not more, grief, has arisen from anti-faith philosophies and ideologies.

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