The West is in the midst of a war—a battle of ideas—with two fronts. Islamism is on the attack from the East, but a parallel tyranny grows in the West, a tyranny every bit as fundamentalist and threatening as jihad. I speak of the tyranny of fundamentalist atheism.
Of course at a purely theological level, Islam and atheism are more or less opposites. But they share a common enemy in Judeo-Christian theism. Some fundamentalist atheists hate Christianity so much they actually speak well of jihad. Christ followers must not be naïve about this reality.
Just as jihadists brook no rival, fundamentalist atheists also reject any notion of freedom of religion. Both fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist atheism oppose pluralism in society and produce religious tyranny.
An atheist, by definition, denies God’s existence. For generations atheists acknowledged freedom of religion. They welcomed a level debate platform on which to reason with theists. But today’s atheists are anti-theists. They regard theists, with their belief in absolutes, as the enemy. Jihadists regard the West (which, in their view, includes Judeo-Christian theism) as the enemy because of their loose morals.
Here’s another parallel between these two tyrannies: jihadism, AKA political Islam or Islamism, is a thoroughly ruthless religion, a subset of Islam. Others would argue that, since Medina, Islam itself is rooted in tyranny. The new atheism is also a religion: secular humanism. A World Religious Reader lists secular humanism alongside Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and other religions. The atheist’s bible is the Humanist Manifesto, first published in 1933, revised in 1973 and again in 2003. Modern and postmodern forms of atheism have become increasingly intolerant of any opposing view. As with the small reform movement within Islam, so there is a small group of old liberals who still believe in the objectivity of truth and are becoming more bold in their public statements in opposition to the tyranny of the new left. Many of those who are speaking out are being identified as the “intellectual dark web.”
Fundamentalist atheism is a dogmatic religion
The original Manifesto defined their views on theology (“religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created”); anthropology (“man is a part of nature”); biology (“[man] has emerged as a result of a continuous process”); and social philosophy (“the complete realization of human personality [is] the end of man’s life,” and “its development and fulfillment [is] in the here and now”).3 The 1973 Manifesto identified their soteriology: “Humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”4
Yes, there are moderate Muslims, and moderate atheists. An important difference, however, is that most Muslims are moderate, but a moderate atheist is hard to find today.
Secular humanists are not only religious; they are also dogmatic. While they take pride in being tolerant of many lifestyles and behaviors, they categorically reject transcendence, thus profoundly changing the concept of tolerance. The Judeo-Christian concept of tolerance is “accepting those with whom we disagree.” Tolerance in today’s atheistic framework affirms that “all ideas are equally valid except ideas rooted in objective truth.” Anti-theists preach tolerance but practice intolerance toward those who acknowledge transcendent revelation and absolute morals.
A third parallel relates to the missing ingredients in radical Islam and fundamentalist atheism. Both deny several concepts essential to life as God intended it: humans made in the image of God; the dignity of women; free will; the dignity of labor; freedom of religion, conscience, and speech; the importance of reason and free inquiry; and justice and transparency.
How fundamentalist atheism propagates its ideals
The old atheists sought dialogue with those of other persuasions; the new atheists are aggressively anti-theistic. They propagate absolutism through books, movies, language, education, and more. Their more popular books include Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006), Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007), and Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation (2006).
Al Gore’s award-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth (2006) attempted to silence global warming critics. In an interview Gore stated, “The debate in the scientific community is over,” when in fact there is no scientific consensus on climate change.6 Ben Stein’s movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) exposed the intolerance and lack of academic freedom in mainstream science when it comes to alternatives to Darwinian science.
How do secular humanists’ ideas affect society? Historian Donald Kagan of Yale University describes the ultimate end of secularism: “[A] vulgar form of Nihilism has a remarkable influence in our educational system through our universities. The consequences of the victory of such ideas would be enormous. If both religion and reason are removed, all that remains is will and power, where the only law is that of tooth and claw.”9 National examples include Nazism in Germany, fascism in Italy and Japan, and communism in the USSR and China.10
People who embrace atheism for moral reasons cannot bear the gaze of a moral God. They challenge the concept of freedom within a moral order, promoting instead the license to live as if there were no moral demands. They foolishly pursue immoral lifestyles to their own enslavement and self-destruction.
How do great civilizations die?
Great civilizations do not endure forever. They live for a time and then die. Sometimes nations are conquered from outside, but often they rot from within. This was the thesis of historian Edward Gibbon in his classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.18
Historian and theologian Dr. Jack L. Arnold helpfully summarizes the moral failure that led to the decline of Rome. He points to the development of huge armaments while neglecting the enemy within: the undermining of the sanctity of the home; the rapid increase in divorce; the moral degeneracy of the whole society by sexual perversion, including homosexuality; and the decline of religious vitality, with formalism supplanting faith and impotence replacing power. He adds that Rome exhibited “(1) political chaos and distrust of political leaders; (2) a breakdown of justice; (3) a failure to maintain law and order; (4) increasing taxes; and (5) a mass movement from the rural areas to the cities.”19 The familiar ring of all this is chilling.
Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe collapsed because its atheism did not comport with truth or reality. Human beings are not animals or machines. Atheists will watch their nation and civilizations die rather than admit their assumptions are wrong, their grand vision only an illusion.
Death by violence or death by decay
Both atheism and jihadism are hastening the death of the West, the latter by external violence, the former by internal rot. An atheistic foundation will not sustain life or freedom. Atheists live on borrowed capital from the biblical worldview. Atheist and secularist academics want to enjoy the blessings of Judeo-Christian roots. Yet they despise the tree and hack at its roots, seeking to overthrow the biblical moral and metaphysical order. When atheism informs popular culture, life becomes trivialized, focused on material consumption.
The atheistic West has become self-absorbed. Our hedonistic cultures have abandoned history and ignored the future, living only for the present. The modern mantra is the ancient hedonist motto “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Personal pleasure is the greatest good in life: “If it feels good, do it!” We confuse the pursuit of happiness with license to do evil. The West is on a path of cultural suicide.
- Darrow Miller
This DM&F Classic blog post is excerpted/adapted from the book Emancipating the World. For the entire text go here.