Religious faith and modern culture: responding to a secular critic

Religious faith and modern culture: responding to a secular critic

Bill Muehlenberg

The Melbourne Age's regular anti-religion writer, Pamela Bone, recently issued another salvo against faith. Entitled "The most dangerous force in the world" (30 November 2002), the militant secularist again waged war against those who think differently from her. She undoubtedly believes she has scored a few hits, but in truth she is well off the mark.

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.

Secularism

The facts of history are quite clear. It is secularism that has been the real killer in human history. In the 20th century alone, there were more people killed in the name of secular ideologies (communism, fascism, etc) than were killed throughout recorded history because of religious reasons. Soviet communism was responsible for the deaths of over 50 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 civilisation were it 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 (see my review at acl.org.au or amazon.com).

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.

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 led 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 tries to get 'cute' at one point, in talking about evolutionary psychologists who say religious tendencies are inherited. Her attempt at witticism simply further undermines her case: "I trust God will excuse from purgatory or hell those who have not been given the right genes".

But 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 people from 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 appear to be 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?

Afterlife

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 all people most miserable". It is exactly because many people believe 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 philisophies and ideologies.

Bill Muehlenber, a Baptist, is National Vice-President of the Australian Family Association.

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