By Rev Dr Peter Barnes
It is common to take refuge in lazy thinking, and to declare that it does not matter what one believes so long as
one is pleasant about it. Yet ideas have consequences. The Christian most surely believes that salvation is at stake –
where one spends eternity. For the moment, however, we will look at what being an atheistic humanist means for morals, our view of humanity, and meaning.
Let us look at morals first. In the late nineteenth century, the Russian novelist, Fedor Dostoevsky (who was strongly
Christian), and the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (who was vehemently atheistic), both declared: ‘If God is dead, everything is permitted.’ What they meant was that if people did not believe in God, they would have to decide for themselves what was right and what was wrong. Dostoevsky prophesied that the result would be tyranny and disaster, while Nietzsche thought the outcome would be liberating.
Who was right? Today we live in an ethical wasteland, and the chill winds blow about in all the wrong directions.
Morality, if it can be called such, consists of outraged and contrived lurchings from one fad to another. C. S. Lewis saw this coming: ‘A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.’ Humanism logically impels us towards chaos and coercion, leaving only the echo of freedom.
Secondly, the humanist by definition rejects the Christian view of humanity. If the Christian view of God is discarded, the Christian view of humanity goes the same way. Since we are made in the image of God (Gen.1:26-27; 9:6; James 3:9), that would not be true if there is no God. Compared to the heavens, we seem insignificant (Ps.8:3-4), but we are actually made a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory and honour (Ps.8:5). To the humanist, there is no God above us, and all animals share an equal status – and the word ‘equal’ guarantees a good reception in academia and the media, perhaps even a mention in the New Year’s Honours List.
The reality is that if there is no God, then we lose the dignity of being in the image of God, and become both the highest and lowest of beings in the universe. We become a kind of god-slug, lacking the humility to bow before God and lacking dignity in that we are only a rung or two above the slug – and maybe not even that if Peter Singer is right.
Finally, what about meaning? Can we solve the problem of drugs, illicit sex, binge drinking, wild driving, road rage,
and pornography simply by passing laws in the parliament?
No, what is wrong is that we have created a society without meaning. Everything is trivial – wall-to-wall episodes of Home .and Away or Bride and Prejudice. In the year 1875 an Anglican clergyman, Leslie Stephen, decided that he had lost his faith completely, so he solemnly renounced his Anglican orders in the presence of Thomas Hardy, the novelist.
Stephen wrote: ‘I now believe in nothing, to put it shortly; but I do not the less believe in morality … I mean to live and die like a gentleman if possible.’
That is to try to build a house in mid-air.
If the resurrection of Christ is not true, we might as well eat and drink for tomorrow we die (1 Cor.15:32). If all is relative, then it is offensive to say that there are absolutes. The one absolute left is that there are no absolutes!
If everything is relative, only discrimination is wrong. The result is as C. S. Lewis said: ‘We make men without chests and we expect of them virtue and enterprise … We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.’ That is where we