Sunday, January 17, 2010

Religion = Worldview

In their debate on the Hugh Hewitt Show last month, Greg Koukl ('GK' below) and Michael Shermer ('MS' below) got into a discussion about the real-world ramifications of holding to atheism as opposed to Christianity. Greg defended the point of view that Christianity's objective morality -- an ethical system based in the character of God himself -- created societies that were more beneficial, altruistic, liberty-advancing, and safe than their atheistic alternatives.
[GK]: The 20th Century, which we just left, was the bloodiest century in the history of the world. And just a casual adding up of the numbers shows over 100 million that were dead at the hands of just three people – Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung. Now these people had a particular ideology at which atheism was its foundation. Because they didn’t believe in God, and there is a natural kinship here between worldviews and the actions that follow them, because they didn’t believe in God, it was the state that was the greater power. And if the state is the greatest power, and they were the state, then they had no one to answer to. And consequently, they were able to do these things that everyone views as an atrocity.

[MS]: It isn’t numbers that’s important. It’s what your capable of doing. And religious beliefs and political ideologies are no different as belief systems driving behavior that’s moral or immoral. People kill in the name of religion just as much as they do in the name of a political ideology.

Shermer's response here would be comical if it weren't so hauntingly false. It's interesting that, after being confronted with the real world consequences of the atheistic view of the world (100 million dead at the hands of just three men), he declares the numbers "unimportant."

Yeah, unless you happen to be part of the "unimportant" statistic.

It's interesting because his "new atheist" counterparts continually make assertions along the line of: "religion is the single greatest source of evil in the world."

The fact is that the opposite is true.

And please note that Koukl ties belief systems to the actions that follow from them. This isn't rocket science and Shermer knows it. He admits as much in the excerpt below:

[MS]: Nobody kills or dies in the name of atheism, because there’s nothing to kill or die for. People kill and die for causes, for ideologies, for beliefs. And communism is a faux religion. It is exactly like a religion, a set of tenets that people adhere to, and then we’re going to go out and change people’s minds, or impose our views on them and so on. That’s what social groups do, whether they’re political, ideological, economic, religious, whatever.

And that’s what communism is. And it’s nothing more than that. Nobody killed in the name of that ...

... if Dawkins and Hitchens and so on were promoting some kind of a political agenda hooked to the atheism, whereby you’re supposed to go out and do this or do that, then yes, I’d think you have a point, and I’d be concerned about it.

Though the wording is a little convoluted, the greater point that Shermer is trying to make is that religion is a belief system. In a similar way, political ideology is also a belief system. These, therefore, are dangerous. Atheism on the other hand, is a separate kind of thing ...
[MS]: There’s no, like, central set of tenets that we adhere to or believe in, or anything like that as you would a Republican or conservative, or something like that, or a Christian or a Jew or whatever. We don’t have anything like that, because there is nothing. It’s just simply we just don’t believe.
I'm wondering if Shermer really believes that he doesn't believe in anything?

What he fails to comprehend is that a religion is nothing more than a system by which one understands and responds to the world. It is a worldview -- and everyone has one! Michael Shermer's worldview is informed by a belief that God does not exist. That is his religion. Saying that he does not believe God exists is not a way of escaping the fact that he holds to a systematic view of the world. It is just that he has tried to construct his understanding of ethics and values on the non-existence of God. And that was Koukl's point.
[MS]: ... I’m in favor of any ideology that gives more people more freedom and liberty and individual power, whether that’s religious or nonreligious ... And that has been the trend for the last five hundred years, that I attribute to the general secular idea, from the Enlightenment, that people have value in and of themselves, and I think religion has fostered, after the fact, sort of just slightly behind the wave, reinforcing those good, human values, and attenuating the bad ones.

... I think religion is good when it does good, it’s bad when it does bad. In general, I’m in favor of anything that leads to greater freedom, greater liberty, greater autonomy for more people in more places ...
From everything I've heard, Michael Shermer is a terrific guy. I have no reason to doubt that assessment. But from what I've seen in his debates (and what he said here), I believe him to be a terrific guy precisely because he has borrowed his ethical system from the Christianity he has rejected. That's great. But what he cannot do is pretend he doesn't believe in anything. What he cannot do is deny that the atheistic butchers in history also have a worldview.

Greg Koukl's point seemed to get lost in the barrage of words. Those who embrace atheism may not perpetrate their evil deeds in the name of atheism itself. But their atheistic view of the world has ramifications. Their atheistic view of the world includes a belief that no being of any more moral consequence than the one they see in the bathroom mirror every morning is watching what they do.

In a system like that, it is easy to engage in promotion of the self to a deified status. And when that happens, everything goes straight to the hell your worldview claims doesn't exist.

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