Hemant Mehta (“the Friendly Atheist”) is all over atheist news like white on rice (or, as they say, “like ugly on a frog”), so I usually avoid posting on the same things he does. But in this case I’ll make an exception. As Hemant notes in a post from Monday, Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s candidate to be Attorney General, has some weird (or should I say “mainstream”) views on atheists. In an earlier post, Hemant noted that Sessions, during his confirmation hearings, had this exchange with Democratic Senator Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Hemant’s emphasis):
WHITEHOUSE: Does a secular attorney have anything to fear from an Attorney General Sessions in the Department of Justice?
SESSIONS: Well, no… and I use that word in the 90,000-foot level. A little concern I have that we as a nation, I believe, are reaching a level in which truth is not sufficiently respected, that the very idea of truth is not believed to be real, and that all of life is just a matter of your perspective and my perspective, which I think is contrary to the American heritage…
We are not a theocracy. Nobody should be required to believe anything. I share Thomas Jefferson’s words on the memorial over here: I swear eternal hostility over any domination of the mind of man. And I think we should respect people’s views and not demand any kind of religious test for holding office.
WHITEHOUSE: And a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth as a person who is religious, correct?
SESSIONS: Well… I’m not sure. [Long silence]… We’re gonna treat anybody with different views fairly and objectively.
That’s clearly ridiculous, since if anything secular people, not adhering to unevidenced superstitions, surely have a better claim to understanding the truth than do religionists.
But put that aside. Let’s move on to Larry Alex Taunton. Remember him? He’s the Christian author who wrote the misguided, tendentious, and probably duplicitous book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist, arguing that, at the end of his life, Hitchens was flirting with becoming a Christian. That book has been thoroughly debunked (see here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example), and nobody with two neurons to rub together believes what Taunton said.
But Taunton’s animus against atheism is again on view again in a piece he wrote for (of course) at Fox News. In this case Taunton uses Sessions’s statements to argue that atheists cannot be moral. In Taunton’s piece, “Why Jeff Sessions as our next attorney general should reassure, not alarm, all Americans“, Taunton says this (my emphasis):
As a student of history, no doubt Senator Sessions also knows that secular regimes, lacking any belief in laws beyond those they manufacture, alter, and violate at will, were responsible for the deaths of no less than 100 million people in the Twentieth Century alone.
That’s more than all religious wars from all previous centuries combined.
That is because atheism unquestionably exacerbates the evil in our nature. And if Christianity doesn’t make you good—strictly speaking, from a theological perspective, none of us are—it makes you better than you might otherwise be.
I am reminded of novelist Evelyn Waugh’s famous quip, made in response to someone drawing attention to his all-too-obvious faults: “Without supernatural aid, I would hardly be a human being.”
All of this is at the heart of the Senator’s remarks: If one does not believe in a Lawgiver, how can we be sure he will acknowledge any law at all? The point isn’t that the secularly-minded cannot be morally outstanding people; the point is that there is no logically compelling reason to be anything other than entirely selfish.
I mean, if there is no God to judge you in the next life for your actions in this one, why not do preciously as you want to do?
Americans should be comforted by the knowledge that the man who might become the highest law enforcement officer in the country believes that some laws are absolute and inviolable no matter what the cultural zeitgeist of the moment is; because sometimes the zeitgeist says slavery is OK and Jews should go to concentration camps.
Comforted? We should be scared that the highest law official of the country might want us to answer to laws from the Great Lawgiver in the Sky rather than from our own legislatures. (By the way, I do believe in a Lawgiver. It’s called Congress.) God’s laws, may, for instance, differ from secular law on issue about abortion, about gays, about censorship, and so on.
Further, anyone who claims that Nazism was an atheist regime, for instance, doesn’t know what they are talking about. And really, wasn’t it a Christian view that demonized the Jews in Europe, leading to the death of six million of them? It’s extremely bizarre to blame secularism for the Holocaust, to say the least.
Finally, if you’re moral for religious reasons, that’s not logic compelling you to be moral. It’s fear—or rather, a misguided notion that if you don’t obey God, you’re going to fry. If that’s not a selfish reason, I don’t know what is.
. . . The Cultural Left’s romance with secularism is naïve at best, malicious at worst. History demonstrates where that worldview all too often leads.
The moral and intellectual sensibilities of the West are still running off of the accumulated capital of a rich Judeo-Christian heritage.
But watch out. When the fumes in that tank are spent, tyranny cannot be far away.
As T.S. Eliot rightly observed, “If Christianity goes, the whole culture goes.”
My response: Scandinavia. Christianity has largely gone there, but, last time I looked, there was still plenty of culture. Now of course Taunton could argue, as religionists love to do, that even the morality in nonbelieving countries is a vestigial remnant of Christianity, but I don’t believe it. Denmark has been largely without religion for several generations, and yet the morality remains. And does Taunton really think that only Christianity, as opposed to other faiths, is a guarantor of morality?
Taunton’s motivations for his odious book are clear: he hates secularism, couldn’t abide the fact that Hitchens was facing death without wavering in his atheism, and therefore made up a story to support Taunton’s preconceptions—and perhaps to make a quick buck on the side. The man is odious.