Recently I listened to a talk by John Anderson, the former deputy PM. He quoted Toynbee, Muggeridge, the Chinese government and Peter Hitchens (brother of famous atheist Christopher) to show that western society is on the brink of going down the tubes. From Arnold Toynbee’s work, Anderson noted that the two factors evident in a society on the verge of social collapse are increased selfishness and apathy. (This was Toynbee’s conclusion after his study of 23 former great civilisations. External factors had an influence certainly, but the primary cause was internal dissolution.)

To selfishness and apathy, Anderson added a third, citing the three other sources: when people attempt to remove God from society [1]. Note that Malcolm Muggeridge used to be an atheist and saw the effects of both left-wing (communist) and right-wing (fascist) governments that were, in theory, practice or both, atheist. Coincidentally Peter Hitchens also used to be an atheist, is a journalist, and has seen life under governments in the USSR, Africa, and North Korea [2]. Anderson noted that a survey by the Chinese government showed that the more Christians there were in a society, the more agitation there was for the disenfranchised.

When belief in God is removed from a society, the “little people” – those without a direct political voice, such as children or the poor – suffer most. Peter Hitchens notes that “religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. The one reliable force that forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law” [3]. But it isn’t just the poor and helpless who have to fear when the only law is the opinion of the many or the power of the few. Voltaire said (something along the lines of) “I want my neighbours, my servants, even my wife to believe in God. I believe that if they do, I shall be robbed less and cheated less.”

In short, remove the twin beliefs that there is no authority higher than humanity, and that all people are by nature and intrinsic value equal, and we will see in the 21st-century West what the 20th-century West fought against – the rule of unfettered humanism, with no authority but its own. If you believe that humanity can be perfected – a concept that should have obliterated in the bloody history of the 20th century – read some political history: we have the testimonies of thousands of people who have seen and lived under those kind of regimes: in a society where belief in God is rejected, power is everything. Ave Macchiavelli!

The same applies to the supercessionist belief that because we know more about the world, we are more rational. If so, why are superstitions still alive today? Why do some people still fear Friday 13th, or read their daily horoscope in the newspapers, while others do not? Why do some people refuse to change their beliefs even when the evidence shows those beliefs are wrong, yet others seem willing to believe almost anything without question? The literature of history shows that people are by nature the same through all ages – some will never be convinced, others are reasonably critical, and others are gullible.

To poorly paraphrase Peter Hitchens, time and technology have little to do with morality and justice: your worldview has everything to do with it. About his brother Christopher, Peter Hitchens said, “As long as he can convince himself, nobody else will persuade him.” [3] To anyone who is familiar with human nature, belief or disbelief is not decided by intellect but by volition: what matters more to a person – truth or comfort? The truth will set us free, but first it may irritate us, or drive us into a paroxysm of rage. On the other hand, if we cling to what is “true for me” we may well be fooling and hurting ourselves – and others – more in the long run.

I think Anderson also mentioned that it is our focus on getting our “rights” that is threatening to upend western society: the focus on individual rights to the neglect of our concomitant duty and responsibility. When we both give and receive (not take), that is what melds a mere group of individuals into a society.

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Endnotes

[1] If there is a being whose nature is superior to the human, who is responsible for our existence, that being has the right to dictate how we should live.

[2] By the way, Antony Flew, the philosophical father of the New Atheist movement, changed his mind (about 2004, while in his seventieth decade) and became a deist (rather than a theist) through re-considering certain kinds of evidence. Flew’s change of mind begs the question, “Why don’t other atheists, who have studied similar evidence, not believe?” The answer is, “because they don’t want to believe.”

[3] “How I found God and peace with my atheist brother: Peter Hitchens traces his journey back to Christianity”, http://www.dailymail.co.uk, The Mail Online. Viewed 15th March 2010.

[4] “In the Soviet suburbs of Hell and the blasted avenues of Mogadishu, I saw what our society could become”. http://www.dailymail.co.uk, The Mail Online. Viewed 15th March 2010.

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