Why would anyone be a Christian in the modern age? More and more people are asking that. As a Christian, I think it’s important to have an answer.
However, when people ask this, they’re actually asking one or more of three questions:
- Why religion at all when atheism is just fine?
- Why just one religion? Why can’t several be right at once?
- If you have to pick just one religion, why Christianity over all the others?
So let’s tackle all three of those in three different blog posts. I’ll put up links to the others when they’re available, but today, let’s focus on that first question: Why have a religion at all?
Definitions and Prefaces
First off, what is a religion? After looking through a few dictionaries, I see a few common trends: Religion offers an explanation for the world as well as a moral system that springs from it, all focused around a supernatural force (God, spirits, Universe). Without religion, you have atheism and/or humanism. Atheism is the lack of belief in any god, while humanism attaches intrinsic importance to humanity alone.
So when people ask why anyone would be religious in this or that capacity, they’re saying that atheism/humanism offers the same things as religion, only better and/or truer. A better/truer explanation for the world and a better/truer morality.
With all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more.
From my experience, atheism/humanism don’t hold up under scrutiny in the way relgious systems do, Christianity chief among them. I’ll get to Christianity’s specific points in later articles, but for this one, I want to lay out why atheism has never, ever made sense to me.
First, a few notes:
- I’ll use atheism and humanism interchangeably as general, non-religious titles because they’re closely connected. Atheists are generally humanists and humanism is by and large atheistic.
- I’m not going to discuss hypocrisy, extremism, or corruption in religion because by definition, those are twisted things, not things themselves. A rotten apple doesn’t devalue the concept of apples.
- This is all my experience, and it’s a blog post. I can’t possibly go into the millions of tiny facets in this one page, so I’m sticking to what I’ve observed. You’re free to reply with your own observations; they’re just as valuable as mine. I just ask that everybody fight fair in the comments, including people who agree with me.
So let’s get to it: why doesn’t atheism offer a better/truer understanding of the world and morality?
A Brief Sweeping-Aside of “Logic.”
Notice the quotation marks. Many people see logic and religion as opposing forces. If religious people listened to reason, they’d stop being religious and see reality, right?
Problem: what people often call “logic” is actually just their own understanding.
People who say logic and religion are opposed are claiming that atheists have the monopoly on truth and wisdom, that their version of logic is never disputed, hidden, misunderstood, corrupted, passed over, faulty, ignored, or just plain wrong.
That’s what “intellectuals” are essentially saying about their “logic.” When they scoff at religion for being stupid and ignoring the facts, they’re actually saying two things: “The data I have is complete, accurate, and unchanging, and my understanding of that data is complete, accurate, and unchanging.”
I defy you to prove either one of those things.
True intellectuals are far more humble. They admit that they can’t possibly know everything. They also know that science kicks out what it used to know every few decades. They do the best with what they have, and that’s both respectable and necessary.
Unfortunately, that honesty also shows the gaping hole in our modern emphasis on reason. While logic is essential to all of us, worshiping it is disastrous. Human understanding of truth is fallible, and open to a trillion interpretations regardless of religion or lack thereof.
This has always been my stumbling block with humanistic explanations of existence. I can’t rest my head on something that shifts and changes so regularly. Even at its best, logic involves a lot of assumption and guesswork. And if you say, “Religions have the same flaws,” then you’ve only proven that atheism offers no better grasp of truth than religion.
It seems wiser to me to stand on something that cannot be shaken, something that can grasp logic flawlessly. But that something cannot be human because no human or human system can ever truly, accurately say, “We have arrived and will never learn anything new.” Only a God could do that.
Besides all this, logic is amoral. It can be used for good or evil. Every famous tyrant used logic to crush people, and we say they were wrong. So if we’re going to become anything but a dystopian nightmare, logic must take a back seat to morality somewhere along the line of human interaction.
That’s where I’ll be spending more of my time: morality.
Atheism and the Problem of What
Let’s start with something on which we all agree: Murder is wrong. Christianity and Judaism say, “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) The Hindu tradition says that someone who commits violence is “the worst offender.” (Laws of Manu 8.345). The First Buddhist Precept is an abstaining from taking life.
And atheism says…oh wait. It doesn’t.
Atheism has no unifying moral moral code. True, it believes in right and wrong, but it can’t point to a definitive authority behind it. Humanism, specifically, gets closer by saying murder harms humans and humans are intrinsically valuable, but where is this written? Who says this is true? It’s all unspoken implication, so why heed it?
Religion points to something above us, whether God, the universe, or some other such. It says, “These are the rules, we are to obey them.” Humanism says, “We make the rules,” or “We are the rules.” If that’s true, then morality is what we make of it. Religion says morality is set in stone. Humanism only thinks it is.
Atheism and the Problem of Why
I asked a moment ago why we should heed morality that isn’t written on some unifying code. An atheist might respond, “Just because it isn’t written down doesn’t mean it’s not right.” And that’s a good point that many religions would agree on…but why?
Let’s go back to murder. Why is it wrong? Some religions teach that “God says so,” or “It’s bad for karma,” or that it violates the created order in some way. They all have a reason.
Humanism doesn’t. Humanism may say, “It devalues a person,” but why is devaluing a person bad? Who said humans were so special in the first place? And why are we special? If there is no god, then humans are just the latest link in the evolutionary chain, something that may very well go extinct one day.
Once more, religion points to something higher than itself. It says, “The world was made a certain way, our job is to stay within its governing guidelines.” Humanism says, “The world just exists and so do we, but we’re special.” How does that line up?
Atheism and the Problem of Justice
Let’s get pushy for a minute. Why should I care what atheists/humanists think? What are the consequences to disregarding their morals? Where is the power behind their insistence? The answer is “human power,” and human power can be averted.
Here’s an all-too-common example: school shooters. The common story is that they kill themselves afterwards, which means they escaped human justice. And if there’s no afterlife, then they are never called to task for their actions. Sure, they’ve done something terrible, but so what? They did exactly what they wanted and got away with it.
We see such stories everywhere. Rapists plead guilty and get a 20-minute time-out. Cops kill unarmed kids and get a paid suspension. Politicians…sheesh, where do I start? Humanism’s highest authorities can be frustrated by sufficient stealth, corruption, or weaponry.
Religion, on the other hand, says that justice always, always, always wins. Some religions say that God will punish in this life, the next, life, or both. Karma says that you’ll have to answer for the bad things you’ve done, even in the afterlife, or perhaps your next life. A unifying theme of religion is that what goes around comes around, no matter what. Evil is always dealt with in some way, shape, or form.
Religion offers justice. Humanism can only do its best.
I Just Can’t Do It
All things considered, atheism has never appealed to me. Without a higher power in the world, our best logic is just ever-changing human guesswork, and our best morality is just human effort. Neither of those things is sufficient, and I don’t see how they’ll ever get there.
This isn’t to say that atheists/humanists are stupid or evil by default, any more than religious types, including my own Christians, are automatic geniuses and saints. We all know atheists who are brilliant and Christians who think the world is ending on Friday–no Monday–no, it’s Friday again. And we all know atheist CEOs who give their money to the poor and Christian pastors who hoard it for themselves. Reality is an ugly shade of gray.
I don’t want to crush or elevate people in this article, just ideas. Humanism troubles me. The idea that we’re all we have. Because folks, I honestly don’t believe we’ll ever get it completely right. Not on our own.
But if not atheism, why Christianity? Aren’t all religions basically the same? That’s the second question and I’ll look into it next week. Until then, I welcome your thoughts on the matter.