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Secular Humanism: A Hopeful Farce

A quickly growing demographic, atheists and others who deny religious faith are starting to organize.

One website, LivingWithoutReligion.org, praises those who have joined the club, citing “an increase of 5% in just 5 years!” In fact, the organization has started to actively market its “cause”:

As Cody, one of their supporters, states, “I’m lucky—we all are—because I am fortunate to be a part of the human experience.” To be honest, it gives me the chills—and not in a good way.

Meanwhile, atheist “megachurches” are beginning to pop up around the country:

Sunday Assembly [one such church in Los Angeles]—whose motto is Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More—taps into that universe of people who left their faith but now miss the community church provided…

These communities mirror their religious counterparts in many ways. They sing songs, hear interesting talks and work on self-improvement. “Why not enjoy all these great things, without the burden of religion?” they ask.

Other than the sheer peculiarity of it all, what should we think of these groups? Well, first—and most critically, their mission is philosophically incoherent.

As Michael Luciano, a Roman Catholic-turned atheist, states, “The idea that you’re building an entire organization based on what you don’t believe, to me, sounds like an offense against sensibility.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, the contemporary philosopher known for his provocative exclamation, “God is dead,” certainly wouldn’t be among the first atheists to join the cause either.

In the absence of God, Nietzsche pleads us to “recognize untruth as the condition of life.” This is what some have called his technique of “philosophizing with a hammer.” He ruthlessly tears down all of the baseless philosophies that have been carefully built over the centuries. Commenting on modern European philosophers in particular—who, like him, disregard the sovereignty and existence of God, Nietzsche writes:

[T]hey wanted to supply a rational foundation for morality—and every philosopher so far has believed that he has provided such a foundation. Morality itself, however, was accepted as “given.”

He denies the very existence of morality because he denies the existence of God. And for good reason; the two are inseparable. If there is no transcendent truth or authority beyond human reason or will, any sense of morality is a farce.

In a foreword to “The Brothers Karamazov,” Manuel Komroff questions, “What if God does not exist? Then for Dostoevsky the world is nothing but a ‘vaudeville of devils’ and ‘all things are lawful,’ even crime.”

Take the French Revolution as an example. It signified the triumph of human reason and was the embodiment of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “general will” (a moral, political construct that comes from the will of the people as a whole). And yet its most notable ramifications were the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in the Reign of Terror, and perpetual unrest in France.

Without God, human will does prevail, but it typically isn’t very pretty. As Nietzsche claims, it is more accurately a “will to power” than a will to “honesty, dignity, compassion and truth.”

[pullquote]     If there is no transcendent truth or authority beyond human reason or will, any sense of morality is a farce.[/pullquote]

While watching the “Living Without Religion” video, I couldn’t help but think of the many people who have likely not felt fortunate to be a part of the human experience. Think of the war, genocide and horrible suffering that has taken place in world history. Only in modern Western society—where we, unlike the vast majority of mankind, have lived extremely fortunate lives—could such a video be taken seriously.

Much more convincing and in-line with reality is the Judeo-Christian narrative: we were created in a certain way, with a common, universal morality, but have fallen. This explains why we yearn for certain good things, but often experience the opposite.

Which leads me to another observation.

As one friend commented (in reaction to the atheist megachurches), “On the bright side, we can certainly affirm that they’re on to something in their search for love in community and in their recognition of the beauty that ritual can have.” Though incoherent, these groups are desperately embracing aspects of the truth, which means they are on the right track.

Community, dignity, compassion, honesty, helping others, improving the world and our own lives—these are all honorable endeavors. But they only exist because of religion. Unless we want to live in Nietzsche’s brutal world, let’s not discard the foundation that these important truths rest upon.