Another Atheist Academic Recognizes Value Of Cultural Christianity

News Image By Joshua Arnold/Washington Stand April 10, 2024
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Last weekend, Christianity received significant praise from an unexpected mouth: new-atheist scholar Richard Dawkins. "If I have to choose between Christianity and Islam, I choose Christianity every single time. I mean, it seems to me to be a fundamentally decent religion in a way that, I think, Islam is not," Dawkins admitted in an interview televised on Easter Sunday. "I find that I like to live in a culturally Christian country, although I do not believe a single word of the Christian faith."

"Dawkins has spent, as you probably know, much of his life attacking Christian beliefs," observed "Washington Watch" guest host and former Congressman Jody Hice. "But, as our culture as a whole becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity, Dawkins is stepping back. He doesn't like what he's seeing."

"Dawkins is seeing the logical end of the years of tearing down a Judeo-Christian culture," Amerisearch President William Federer responded. "It's just going to turn into lawlessness. And out of that lawlessness, power is going to reconcentrate."

"In America, it doesn't matter what religion, what sex, what ethnic background. You're equal because you're made in the image of the creator. This is a Judeo-Christian concept," Federer argued. He pointed out that "93% of Americans identified themselves as Christian -- 93% -- in 1965."

In contrast to a government that recognizes every human's inherent dignity, Federer said the world's "most common form of government is gangs. ... If you're friends with the gang leader or the king, you're worth more. If you're not their friend, you're worth less. If you're their enemy, you're a slave, or you're dead." He embarked upon a brief world tour:

"In the Far East, they call it [an] honor-shame culture."
"In Islam, they call it the 'Ummah,' the community."
"In Hinduism, there [are] four major castes and multiple other variations."
"In China, they had the 100 family surnames, and they were the ruling class for centuries."

Interspersed with authoritarian regimes, there have been attempts at democracy, Federer acknowledged. "The alternative is to take the power of a king and give it to the people. But unless the people have morals and virtue, it turns into chaos. And out of that chaos, they want a king again," he reasoned. "As we move in the direction of having fewer morals, it turns into more chaos."

In an echo of the Founders, Hice agreed, "It's impossible to have limited government without people who are self-governing." Federer pointed to the nation of Israel during the time of the judges. "Every man did that which was right in their own eyes [Judges 17:6, 21:25], and it turns into this lawless chaos," he said.

The corollary to the conclusion that morality is essential to an orderly and free society is that secular societies cannot perform better than religious ones, since their morality lacks a compelling foundation. "In communist, atheistic, utilitarian cultures, your worth is dependent on your utility," Federer summarized. "If you can contribute to the state, you're worth more. If you can't, you're 'voted off the island.'"

For evidence of this fact, look no further than the comments by Richard Dawkins, who used to be stridently anti-Christian. "I was a little amazed that Dawkins actually called himself 'culturally Christian,'" Hice reacted. Here's just one example of the way Dawkins treated Christianity in his 2006 book, "The God Delusion":

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

Such serpentine slanders have been refuted many times in the past 18 years, and so has the notion that the God portrayed in the Old Testament differs from the one portrayed in the New.

Rather than squander words scouring old terrain, I'd like to propose a question which those in Dawkins's camp (anti-Christians who enjoy the benefits of Christianity-infused cultures) must wrestle with: Where do they think cultural Christianity comes from?

In response to slanderers in his own day, Jesus argued, "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. ... The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil" (Luke 6:43-45). Jesus's point is that it's possible to distinguish between good and evil natures based on what they produce.

If Christians worship an evil God and seek to implement and conform to a crooked morality, then one would expect to find societies influenced by Christianity to be especially unpleasant. But this is not what Dawkins has found. Instead, he argued that he preferred Christian societies -- especially as opposed to Islam. "It certainly appears as though he understands at least -- he may not be able to articulate, but he understands there's a difference," suggested Hice, "that a Christian-based culture is much better than a culture that is hostile to Christianity, and that tears down those Christian institutions."

This preference would require a disinterested logician to conclude that the source (Christianity) is good because the fruit (a culture infused with Christianity) is good.

But neither Dawkins nor anybody else is a disinterested observer. Every human being is, by nature, an anti-God partisan, who has rebelled against God and defied his holy law. We each have a deep-seated interest in rejecting God's order for creation and pursuing our own sinful passions and projects. If we can find an excuse to deny our creator, we will.

Thus, Dawkins spoke for mankind when he said, "I do not believe a single word of the Christian faith." That is the natural state of our hearts, a willful, culpable blindness which only God can overcome. As Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65).

Dawkins spoke for our culture, in another sense, by trying to pick and choose which parts of Christianity he would accept or dismiss. In an age of excessive consumer choice and expressive individualism, many people believe they have the ability to judge between religions, picking and choosing their own customized model.

That might work -- so long as a person is only critiquing false, man-made religions. But Christianity is the worship of the one true God, and he has not left that option open to us. Christianity is not like a custom website design, where customers can pick and choose the features and elements that are optimized for their purposes. 

It's more like a pressure cooker, where every inconvenient element -- the seal, the heavy steel hull, the firmly closing lid, that annoying steam release valve that always falls off -- is indispensable to the device's proper and safe operation. Those who call Jesus "Lord" but reject his rules will reap none of the benefits he has promised to his followers (Luke 6:46-49), nor will those who prefer proximity to Christians, without any actual commitment of their own.

Dawkins appears to have joined other prominent academics (Jordan Peterson, for instance) in recognizing the cultural virtue of Christianity while denying the truth of the gospel and its life-changing power. This reflects what Moses predicted, when he said that surrounding nations would marvel at the wise, understanding, and righteous statutes God (the Old Testament God!) had promulgated for the nation of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). The laws were wise and righteous because they reflected God's character.

Yet those who only value the outward trappings of Christianity, while rejecting the inward reality (love for a righteous God) that makes it possible, are near unto the life-wrecking shoals of "having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:5). God has demonstrated the power of his Word through the apparent folly of the cross, and he "will destroy the wisdom of the wise" (1 Corinthians 1:19) -- those who are only wise with worldly wisdom.

Yet "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7), and those who obey God will in the end be wiser than those whose hearts do not love the Lord or his law, who have not bowed their wills to their Maker, nor turned to his Son, Jesus Christ, as their only hope of salvation in the final judgment.

In fact, this judgment appears to be a major sticking point for anti-Christians like Dawkins, who would prefer a god made in their own image, one who would not punish evil. Yet presuming to judge God is Dawkins's fundamental error. One of my pastors, Bobby Jamieson, articulated three reasons on Sunday why not to reject God's judgment: 1) we lack the standing because we are not omniscient or omnipotent, 2) we lack the character because we are not more merciful that he, and 3) we would undermine own standard of justice because his is perfect.

Instead of usurping God's lordship to sit in judgment on him, we should instead rejoice that his judgments are good, and that God-fearers make their societies places even God-deniers want to live. If the benefits of living in a "culturally Christian" nation are significant, just imagine how much better are the benefits of believing in the God whom Christians worship! "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Originally published at The Washington Stand

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