There is no doubt that tribalism is a growing problem for society. “In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America’s differences have become dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants, the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.”1
There is a growing sense among some that one of the greatest causes of societal disharmony is religion. Prominent voices among the intellectual atheists have pointed to religious wars, like those in the middle east through the centuries until the present, as proof. Even within the many branches and denominations of Christianity, there is disunity, disagreement, and conflict.
Sam Harris, a prominent atheist, neuroscientist, and philosopher observed, “Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible.”1 James Spiegel further acknowledges, “…many others who have not directly perpetrated these evils have been immorally complicit or refused to oppose them. Here we have no excuse and no recourse but repentance and a firm resolve not to repeat such extreme moral failures.”2
Many of the atrocities done under the name of Christianity were carried out in the interests of governments and nations with a Christian veneer, nonetheless, there are far too many examples where Christians have been undeniably culpable or complicit.
Can Science and Reason Provide a Better Way?
The conflict surrounding religious faith has caused many to advocate for a secular morality and ethics that rely upon science and reason. According to Charles Freeman, “Conflict between religions tend to be more destructive than those between scientists.”3 Scientific progress has led to technologies, medicines, and innovations that have saved and improved countless lives worldwide. If we can define morals and ethics based upon science rather than religious traditions the world will be more loving, inclusive, and just.
“And so we arrive at this bright thought: perhaps science can do for morality what it has done for physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and mathematics, and the technologies that are based upon them.… Can the methods of science provide rational and compelling answers to questions of right and wrong, good and bad, and how we ought to live? Can science be the foundation of morality?”4Science and the Good
Since the enlightenment, science, and reason have produced many advancements and improved lives in countless ways. However, to say that the fruit of scientific and technological advancement has been morally positive, much less neutral, would be disingenuous. For example, industrialization brought about the ability to inexpensively produce materials and goods on a mass scale leading to advancements in agriculture, architecture, and transportation. These industrial revolutions also led to the exploitation of child labor, pollution, and the fragmentation of families.
The pursuit of science and reason devoid of a Christian ethic or morality has resulted in horrific crimes to humanity. Science, with a reliance on secular humanistic reason, has produced the ideologies of Marxism, Darwinism, scientism, and secular humanism. These ideologies have resulted in the atrocities of the Holocaust, Katyn Massacre, and eugenics. The various attempts to produce a world based upon the collective good resulted in unimaginable mass suffering and hostility to minorities and those seen as disadvantaged by the elites. Notably hostile to those who are of Judeo-Christian faiths.
Ideologies that elevate reason and ignore the contribution and value of the Judeo-Christian faiths (that have been essential in the West), will only lead society down a path of dehumanization and destruction.
“If the West’s unique integration of reason and faith is a defining characteristic of its civilization, we must conclude that this civilization is seriously imperiled. Ideas that contest and undermine this integration—authoritarian relativism, Prometheanism, Nietzscheanism, scientism, etc.—have permeated every sector of public life. Marxist regimes are fewer in number today, but Marxism’s cultural influence persists, especially among intellectuals.” 5Science and the Good
Science and reason untethered to the morality and ethics of the Judeo-Christian tradition have not resulted in human flourishing. Likewise, a Christianity that ignores science and reason has been guilty of hindering progress and ignoring human suffering for fear of losing influence or control.
Christianity’s Contribution for the Good
While there are many examples of atrocities committed under the guise of Christianity that should be acknowledged as wrong, the Judeo-Christian faith has uniquely contributed to the pursuit of human flourishing in ways that have permeated all aspects of western civilization.
During the 16th Century, with the Protestant Reformation and the printing press, the Roman Catholic Church’s control on the free exploration of theology, science, and reason began to loosen. The Reformation sent a shockwave across Western Civilization, thus creating the necessary environment for the enlightenment.
Among the Enlightenment thinkers were then Englishmen Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, the Frenchman René Descartes, natural philosophers, & the fathers of modern science like Galileo and Johannes Kepler. In the later part of the 1600’s Isaac Newton published his“Principia Mathematica,” and John Locke his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1689).
Many of these were devout Christians but all had been highly shaped by a Biblical worldview. It was the belief of Newton and Kepler, among others, that God’s design of the universe was precisely the reason it was built on scientific laws that could be studied and understood. Christianity can be credited for the establishment of hospitals, universities, education, care of the vulnerable of society, and the understanding of justice and universal human rights.
The Necessity of Defining Good and Evil
The evils that have been committed under the auspice of Christianity are outrageous because they are morally inconsistent with a Biblically informed Christian faith. What Sam Harris claims to be a “theologically defensible reading of the Bible” is for most an obvious distortion of the teaching of Jesus and any contextually faithful reading of the Bible.
Simply stated, the reason we are outraged by these evils done by those claiming to be Christian is precisely because the Bible has given us a clear understanding of what is unjust and evil.
As an atheist wrestling with the Christian faith, C.S. Lewis concluded, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”6
The morality and ethics of the Judeo-Christian faith have provided the necessary definitions to expose injustice and evil when it has surfaced among those of claiming the Christian faith. Additionally, since the Enlightenment these same definitions have served Western Civilization as the foundation of morality, ethics, and justice. The continued ethics and morality informed by the Judeo-Christian faith are essential to protecting the world from the unrestrained dangers of science and reason alone.
1 James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010), 35.
2 James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist, 35.
3 Charles Freeman, The Closing of the Western Mind, 338.
4 James Davidson Hunter and Paul Nedelisky. Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), 7.
4 James Davidson Hunter and Paul Nedelisky. Science and the Good, 161.
5 Samuel Gregg, Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization, (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2019), 122.
6 Joshua D. Chatraw, Telling a Better Story, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Reflective, 2020), 190.