Violence: a natural selection

I wrote this in the car today while mulling over a talk we listened to yesterday. Why do some new atheists hate the Christian faith?

I was going to use the word “religion” in that question. But I hate religion too. Jesus spends a whole lot of time rebuking people for their religion. Religion, for those scratching their heads, is the idea that one’s actions win them salvation. It is what distinguishes Biblical Christianity from any other form of faith. For the sake of clarity I should have probably used “antitheists” rather than atheists in the title. But I’ll stick with the label the people I am thinking of apply to themselves.

At the heart of almost every objection to faith that I read from atheists is that people of faith use their beliefs to stymie the desires and actions of people with different faiths. Which is kind of a fair enough criticism. Until you think about it.

What would happen if the new atheists were in the majority and their moral framework (which basically comes down to “if it feels good, do it”) was the yardstick?

Morality is always the standard of behaviour set by the highest power one chooses to acknowledge – be it the individual, community standards, government or a deity. To suggest that morality is set internally is disingenuous and results in a really odd and selfish decision making.

The moral outcome and conclusion of natural selection is either violence or submission. How else does one survive? As soon as one entity, be it an individual or a community, acts in a way that threatens the survival of another the only natural response at that point is to act violently – or to submit and possibly die.

Richard Dawkins has famously suggested that our culture is beyond the “evolutionary” need for religion. That we’ve somehow moved past the need for our behaviour to be moderated by a higher power. Hogwash.

Even if the higher power is a figment of the collective imaginations of believers throughout human history, even if each “imaginary friend” causes their fans to act in an irrational manner towards the other teams, and even if morality that flows from a position of faith is an arbitrary and less “good” moral framework than one’s own “harm based” equation – the alternative to a planet with faith looks much worse than the current state of affairs.

People would no doubt find other reasons to kill one another. Believers must admit that religious codes have caused conflict (and continue to) since the beginning of time. This says nothing about the truth of the beliefs.

I think the reason the new atheists hate faith is not that they think faith is harmful – that cannot possibly the reason. If faith is an evolutionary survival mechanism then people are simply outworking their inherent and instinctive violent natures.

Until the New Atheists come up with a system of morality that curtails this inner violence better than religion they should shut their mouths, to deconvert people can in fact do more harm than good.

It is illogical to operate with a harm based ethical framework and a philosophical framework grounded in nihilistic survival (protect one’s ability to do what feels good) and to call for the removal of the influence of faith from public life. It is irrational, and stems from prejudice.

It can be logical to decide that oneself, on an individual level, does not need to believe God to survive and prosper – but to apply your own personal moral framework to everybody else is dangerous. It only works until someone wants something different to what you think they should want and they decide to take it for themselves.

For many antitheists the question isn’t so much of morality but that they find posited gods immoral. With their superior internal moral framework. These slightly more consistent atheists hate the God they don’t believe in for sending bears to render injustice to intemperate youths. They hate the God they don’t believe in for committing genocide by flooding the world. More accurately they hate that people are willing to describe such a God as loving.

How can a loving all powerful God allow or cause suffering? How can a loving God send people to Hell?

I commend this talk (MP3) by Tim Keller to those asking that question (he touches on the natural selection = violence idea in this talk).

The key to both these questions hinges on the unjust suffering and death of Jesus for his enemies.

I don’t understand how antitheists can be angry at a belief that calls for this sort of action – John 15 says…

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Where Jesus did not just walk the walk – he ran it – Romans 5 says…

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That’s what, in my mind, makes Christianity impossible to hate. How can you argue with a person who is willing to follow that same model? (Luke 9).

“Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

It’s completely counter-instinctive to take that position. Particularly if instincts are defined as actions that contribute to one’s survival under a natural selection model. Christianity doesn’t seem to bear the hallmarks of a tool of natural selection because it rails against the basest element of natural selection – selfishness, and works against our natural inclination to violently defending our rights. I can’t see how the continued existence of such a mindset can be bad for society – even if some believers use their faith to call for different standards of behaviour.

Seriously – if you can’t tolerate a little bit of moral criticism – or persecution – from those with opposing views to you (just because you don’t have evidence to support their deity) – then move to France. It’s really not that bad – and the moderate Christian voices will eventually gain traction as they try to encourage other Christians to put Jesus at the centre of the gospel not religious acts.

I don’t want to go down the path of the “no atheists in the foxholes” fallacy – but how many atheist martyrs are there? How many atheists are dying in Christian nations? I’m sure there are atheists dying for their lack of belief in Islamic nations – but they’re not getting special treatment, the Christians are dying there too.

That is all.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

7 thoughts on “Violence: a natural selection”

  1. Why do some new atheists hate the Christian faith?

    I know John Dickson uses the term, as does the media, but I find the term is actually just getting in the way. So often, when I use it (mostly with the prefix 'so called') the other party ignores my argument and gets hung up on the term 'new'. I'm not sure what shorthand to use – as the very people who might readily use the arguments of this popular literature are the first to distance themselve from any kind of collective set of beliefs.

    The moral outcome and conclusion of natural selection is either violence or submission.

    There is grounds for a kind of group / kin reciprocal altruism (which not exactly altruism to be fair) – a mutual back-scratching morality. But even Dawkins admits that real altruism that favours the 'genetic information' of a totally unrelated competitor (e.g. adoption) is at odds with Darwinian evolution – he resorts to positing that it is simply a 'misfire', that is basically, a happy accident, which is a kind of science-of-the-gaps mentality really.

    These slightly more consistent atheists hate the God they don’t believe in for sending bears to render injustice to intemperate youths.

    A point in case.

    The key to both these questions hinges on the unjust suffering and death of Jesus for his enemies.

    Absolutely!

    Really good post Nathan.

  2. "Until the New Atheists come up with a system of morality that curtails this inner violence better than religion they should shut their mouths . . ."

    Would something like the Charter for Compassion (http://charterforcompassion.org/) be sufficient? My initial thought is that it wouldn't be too bad if everyone on the planet followed the Golden Rule.

      1. Yes, I'm aware of who drew up the Charter for Compassion, and I thought it was nice of them to get input from the dark side. I have no idea how much the input from the secular/nonreligious/agnostic/atheist contributors shaped the final outcome, but even if it's zero I can still agree with some or all of it. After all, I agree with some of the ten commandments in spite of the source. A lot of Jesus' quotes aren't too bad, either. (Yes, I believe he was a real person.)

        I only brought up the Charter for Compassion as a potential system that curtails mankind's inner violence. I know it falls short of being a complete system of morality, but at a glance it seems to cover the non-violence aspect pretty well. Of course, no matter what is offered as an atheist system of morality, one argument against it will be that there isn't anything extrinsic, such as a higher power, compelling atheists to follow it. So I'll agree that it's futile to argue against a faith-based system of morality.

        Well darn, I have to split up my comment because it's too long. Hopefully Part 2 is immediately after this one.

        1. I can still agree with some or all of it.

          And the argument is not that you cannot. On the whole, the atheist apologists have completely misunderstood the argument. It's not about whether you can, but why should you.

  3. Moving forward, let's assume an atheist converts to Christianity tomorrow. Here are some questions he might have regarding Christian morality:

    1. If my morality is now the standard of behavior set by God, does the Bible (OT and NT) cover all the behaviors that are acceptable and not acceptable? Are there some other texts I should refer to? I know the Catholic church has the Pope and some other appointed body or bodies that give guidance to Catholics. So as far as the Catholics are concerned it appears that not everything is covered in the Bible, and therefore their standards of behavior need some human interpretation as society evolves. I just don't know if any of the other branches of Christianity have a similar structure for interpreting the standards (if they need interpreting). Or should I just ask my local preacher/pastor/minister if I have any questions?

    Darn again. Still too long. Stay tuned for Part 3 . . .

  4. . . . continued

    2. Along the same lines as question 1: Back when I was an atheist I would often point out things in the Bible which, when taken out of context, seemed really absurd to try to follow today. I'm pretty sure God doesn't really want me to go around killing new brides after they are discovered to be non-virgins on their wedding night. I hope he's just trying to convince me that premarital sex is bad, which I can understand. Some other things might not be so easy to figure out if they're meant to be taken literally, such as the dietary guidelines in Leviticus 11. A companion gude to help a newbie like myself determine what's literal and what isn't would be helpful here, because I really don't want to cut off my hand if it causes me to sin.

    3. Does this system of morality include the consequences of straying away from the behavioral standards? I guess I'm curious to know if I should expect consequences here on earth, at my final judgment, or both?

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