Janie B. Cheaney – Atheism’s uncertainty


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, April 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. G.K. Chesterton once said that for Christians, their faith says the world has a meaning and direction. Not so atheism. Here’s WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney.

JANIE B. CHEANEY: In a satirical epilogue to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis imagines his cagey old demon rising to propose a toast after the annual Tempter’s College Dinner. While commending his hosts, he complains about the disappointing dinner—that is, the poor quality of sinners that comprised it. That Municipal Authority with Graft Sauce was barely palatable, much less the lukewarm Casserole of Adulterers. 

Goodness me, what’s become of the brazen sinners and brawny atheists of yesteryear?

If Lewis had been writing 10 years ago, he might have Screwtape smacking his lips over the so-called “four horsemen” of outspoken atheism. But Christopher Hitchens has passed into eternity, Daniel Dennett into obscurity, Sam Harris is still dreaming about a rational society and Richard Dawkins wondering if that dream is D.O.A.

Dawkins has been the scourge of what he understands as traditional Christianity. Only a few years ago he applauded Dennett’s proposal to separate children from their fundamentalist parents. But lately he’s expressed some doubts whether the loss of Christianity would be an unvarnished good. 

His latest book observes that, quote, “Whether irrational or not, it does, unfortunately, seem plausible that, if somebody sincerely believes God is watching his every move, he might be more likely to be good.” 

Though he hates to admit it, Dawkins has run smack into the notion of Original Sin, which G.K Chesterton described as the most verifiable fact of human history. Other atheist/agnostics, such as Douglas Murray and Jordan Peterson, are even less sanguine about the basic goodness of humanity. 

Some atheists see themselves as heroes in the story of mankind’s relentless march toward the bright dawn of unbelief. The world is richer, they say; lifespans are longer, and wars are shorter because, sometime in the mid-eighteenth century, mankind began building an intellectual framework that excluded God. And, because humans are fundamentally decent, things can only get better from here. 

Yes, about that, Dawkins and others seem to be wondering: what if we humans are the bad guys? Or, if only a few of us are really bad, how will the rest of us gin up the moral courage to stop them?   

Screwtape concluded his toast by looking on the bright side. Half-baked sin is barely palatable, but thank Our Father Below, unrepentant sinners abound. Their atheism owes nothing to intellectual rigor; it’s more a default setting. Rather than reshape outmoded moral barriers, it simply removes them. 

To their credit, serious atheists are beginning to question whether that’s a good thing. They should have questioned sooner.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


 


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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