Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Is Atheism A Christian Heresy?
In that light it is easy to see liberal Christianity as a heresy. They have emphasized the mercy and love of God at the expense of our response. Especially sexual morality is lost but also the importance of personal salvation and authentic worship. It is in line with what secular anthropologists say about religion. That it is useful not really because the doctrines are true but because it encourages a morality that helps human society to flourish. Many liberal Christians would agree. They would affirm the truth of many of the main doctrines of Christianity but not their importance. Who cares if Jesus literally rose from the dead. Christianity ushered in a society that was less barbaric than the Roman empire. That is what matters.
Once you have Christianity reduced to a positive social development then what do you believe about its future? You either believe it will continue to play a positive role or you don't. We may or may not have found a better way of forming the consciences of citizens. We have learned some important moral principles during the Christian period that we want to retain but we can have those in a post-Christian society as well. Can't we?
How you answer that question determines whether you become atheist or remain a liberal Christian. But even those that go all the way to atheism retain large sections of Christian morality. They more than retain it. The use it to destroy the rest of Christianity in much the same way other heretics do.
The two things they focus on are the importance of reducing human suffering and the value of human reason. Those are things they import from Christianity. If you ask them why they believe those things they cannot explain it. Like asking a protestant why he believes the bible is true. It is just foundational and is never questioned. But then they use those tools to defeat other Christian doctrines. One being the existence of God.
It is odd how many argue that God must not exist because the bible records Him causing human suffering in various places. We know reason is valid and we know suffering is wrong so God must not exist. The problem with this is that suffering is not always bad. Still atheists go on and on with moral outrage. There is a myth that atheists have no morality. In some ways they should not but they do. They are often very zealous about right and wrong. They are often very Christian too. They know we should not judge others. They know that hatred and violence are wrong. They believe in the dignity of the poor and the handicapped. They believe in equality. They believe in education.
If you suggest to them they believe these truths because Christianity taught them they just don't accept that. Like when you tell a protestant that he only knows the New Testament is the word of God because the Catholic Church told him. It is just something everybody knows. You can't give you religion credit for that. But why does everybody know it? How long before it is questioned? When it is questioned what will be your answer?
So atheism flows from Christianity. Doesn't it cease to be a Christian heresy when it denies all the major doctrines of Christianity? Not really. Islam is often called a Christian heresy. It denies some pretty important doctrines like the truth of the bible and the crucifixion of Jesus. So the fact that they wandered very far on some fronts does not make them cease to be a heresy. You can look at many small Christian splinter groups and find some very wild doctrines.
So what is the advantage of thinking of atheism this way? It makes sense of the link between liberal Christianity and atheism. They share much in common. Liberal Christians still might go to church once in a while and say nice things about the bible but in practice their thinking is similar to that of atheists. It is very confusing because when you talk about atheism or secularism or whatever you call it different people put liberal Christians in very different categories and therefore paint very different pictures of the prevalence of atheism. I think of it as a dominant ideology in our society. Some talk about it as a small minority of around 1% because that is how many self-identify as atheist. The point is the self-identified atheists are just one very vocal form of this larger heresy. If it was only the 1% nobody would care.
The other reason it makes sense to me is that modern western atheism does not make sense apart from Christianity. Many atheists would disagree with this but so much of their value system is borrowed or stolen from Christianity. They all believe in human rights. Why? They will never admit they took that from Christianity and really don't have a solid rational basis for it within their own creed. They like to think of themselves as people who went back to first principles and reconstructed a worldview based on pure reason. If that was true they would disagree on almost everything. Reason without tradition does that. The truth is they share a pretty strong tradition and much of it is Christian. Atheists get offended by this suggestion but I actually think it is a compliment. Christian tradition is a good thing.