Our atheist friends would have us believe that all the goods of the West – human rights, democracy, belief in human equality and freedom, etc. – just happily evolved, and religion played no role in their development. They are in fact hostile to faith and religion, denigrating them at every turn.
Yet as so many scholars and world class thinkers have shown, it was the Judeo-Christian worldview which was the main source and foundation stone of Western civilisation. The ancient Greeks and Romans took stabs at things like democracy, but it was hardly something we would recognise today.
As historian Rodney Stark remarked, “While the classical world did provide examples of democracy, these were not rooted in any general assumptions concerning equality beyond an equality of the elite. Even when they were ruled by elected bodies, the various Greek city-states and Rome were sustained by large numbers of slaves.
“And just as it was Christianity that eliminated the institution of slavery inherited from Greece and Rome, so too does Western democracy owe its essential intellectual origins and legitimacy to Christian ideals, not to any Greco-Roman legacy. It all began with the New Testament.”
Or as Vishal Mangalwadi states in his important 2011 volume, The Book That Made Your World: “In reality Greek democracies never worked for more than a few decades. They always degenerated into mob rule. Plato experiences Greek democracy as the social chaos that murdered his mentor Socrates. Therefore he condemned pure democracy as the worst of all political systems.”
But this is a much too broad topic to properly tackle here, so let me narrow things down a bit by looking at the American situation. For all its current faults – especially under Obama – America has been one of the freest, most democratic, and most prosperous nations known to history.
This did not come about by accident. It certainly did not simply “evolve” that way. America was a nation founded with a purpose, a destiny, a vision. Most of the Founding Fathers were decidedly Christians who fully believed in the Bible.
Sure, a few Deists were among them, but most were committed to biblical religion and revealed faith. They knew that without the hand of God upon them, the American experiment would fail. And they knew the tremendous social goods they were seeking to achieve and maintain were the direct result of the biblical worldview.
Said John Adams: “Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” Or as he also said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Noah Webster put it this way: “The Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis, or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. . . . and I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.”
William Penn was quite correct to warn, “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.” Either God is King and his law is final and absolute, or mere men will seek to take his place, and become sovereign, with the few ruling over the many.
The Founders knew of the critical place God must hold if the new republic was to work, with genuine equality and freedom. Consider one of its most important documents, the Declaration of Independence. It was drafted by Thomas Jefferson in June, 1776.
His version of the Preamble originally said this: “We hold these truths to be sacred and unalienable, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But this was altered by Benjamin Franklin however. He was a Deist who did not want the more explicit reference to deity. So we now have this familiar form: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” But Jefferson was quite right here while Franklin was wrong.
The ideas of human equality and human rights are not the stuff of nature, but are the stuff of revelation. It is because God has revealed himself, and declared that all mankind is made in his image, that modern concepts of equality exist. Nature does not recognise such equality.
Nor do naturalists such as Darwin. The evolutionary process certainly does not know of equality: some species are more equal than others. The stronger species naturally take advantage of the weaker. Without divine revelation all we have is what we find in nature: and that does not lead to concepts such as equality or of basic human rights for all.
Without the Bible – the revelation of God – modern notions of human equality would never have appeared, or been sustained. Human reason and instinct will not come up with the dignity of man and his fundamental equality and worth.
As Mangalwadi writes, “Equality and human rights are not self-evident truths. . . . That’s why the Declaration grounded the ‘unalienable’ rights in the Creator rather than in the state. The most honest declaration would have been, ‘We hold these truths to be divinely revealed.’
“Revelation is the reason why America believed what some Deists ascribed to ‘common sense.’ To be precise, these truths appeared common sense to the American Founders because their sense was shaped by the common impact of the Bible – even if a few of them debated that the Bible was divinely revealed.”
As Jefferson said elsewhere: “Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are a gift from God?” Or as the French observer and admirer of American democracy Alexis de Tocqueville put it:
“Despotism may be able to do without faith, but democracy cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?” And again, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”
Mangalwadi takes this idea further: “A postmodernist would be absolutely right in insisting that the Declaration of Independence was wrong. These ‘truths’ are not ‘self-evident’. Human equality is not self-evident anywhere in the world – not even in America.”
Inequality is self-evident – it is what we everywhere see. It took a very powerful countervailing force and ideology to overcome this. And that of course came from the opening chapters of Genesis, where we find the truth that all men are equal and of value because they are all made in God’s image.
It is upon this foundation of revealed truth that things like the American Declaration of Independence became possible. Without God and the Bible, the world would look nothing like it now is. The fundamental beliefs about human rights and human equality are not a given of nature.
They are the direct result of the God who is there, who is the moral ruler of the universe, and who has spoken to his creatures, informing them of who they are as his creation. Evolutionary theory could never give rise to such concepts. Atheism cannot give rise to such realities.
Only the biblical worldview can account for and give foundation to the counterintuitive truths that all men are equal. The dog-eat-dog world of raw nature does not give us the rule of law, democracy, or the dignity of man. It simply gives us Stalin’s gulag, Hitler’s Final Solution, and Mao’s cultural revolution.
Genuinely free and democratic nations which see everyone of equal worth, value and dignity come from above. Only a civilisation built on that foundation can expect to last. As Os Guinness correctly observes in A Free People’s Suicide: “The plain fact is that no free and lasting civilization anywhere in history has so far been built on atheist foundations.”
Nor can we expect them to. The much-maligned Bible and Judeo-Christian religion is the foundation of all that we hold dear today. And it could not have been any other way. But as those foundations are being razed before our eyes, so too that which has been built upon them.
We must recapture the importance of the truth that God has spoken, and has given us a blueprint for how human wellbeing and flourishing can work. Without it we are left to our own devices. And as last century so clearly demonstrated, that is a very bad place to be in.