Should We Legislate Christian Moral Values if Christianity Is False?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I recently heard another excellent podcast of Unbelievable? where apologist Os Guinness debated “atheist” Mary Warnock.  I put “atheist” in quotation marks because of Warnock’s beliefs, which you will see are central to her positions on morality and public policy.

Warnock insisted that she is a Christian because she regularly attends her Anglican church and participates in Christian fellowship and ritual.  But, when she was asked if she actually believed in the historical truth of the biblical accounts, she replied that she did not.  She believes that the stories are man-made.

The issue of their historical truthfulness, however, did not seem to bother her at all.  She repeatedly stated that the biblical stories are some of the greatest imaginative literature ever produced by man, that the morality taught in the Bible is right on target and exactly what the British people should base their laws upon.  In fact, she agreed with Guinness several times that the modern democratic west is built on the teachings of Christianity.

Having pointed to the impact of Christianity on the UK, and having agreed that she wishes for that impact to continue, she then went on to say that the historical truthfulness of Christianity has nothing to do with public policy, and should, in fact, be strictly kept out of any public policy discussion.  Why?  Because the basis for Christian moral beliefs (the historical truthfulness of the events in the Bible) is completely irrelevant to the issue of which moral code is legislated.  The UK should largely adopt the moral teachings of Christianity and leave aside the question of Christianity’s truthfulness – just like Warnock does in her personal life.

Guinness, as you would expect, raised several issues with this approach.  First, why should the Muslim or Hindu go along with this approach?  Why shouldn’t their imaginative literature, their holy writings, be made the basis of British law?  Why should the secularist who finds Christian morality to be too restrictive go along with Warnock?  Surely the secularist also has his imaginative literature.  How can the Christian or anyone else argue over morality without eventually bringing in the basis for their moral beliefs?  If Christianity is false, shouldn’t that have some bearing on whether we adhere to its moral teachings?

Warnock seems to be saying something like the following.  Christianity has the best set of stories of any worldview, the best set of stories to promote the values that Warnock prefers.  Other worldviews have inferior stories that do not promote the kind of values that Warnock prefers.  Having the best stories is enough to establish Christian morality as the basis for public policy.

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood Mary Warnock, but this is what I heard during the discussion.  It seems to me that the truthfulness of Christianity has everything to do with whether we should adopt its teachings.  Eventually, the topic of worldview must come into the public policy discussion.  After all, Christians base many of their moral standards on the idea that every human is made in the image and likeness of God.  If there is no God, then the Christian foundation for human dignity completely crumbles.  Warnock does not seem to see this point.

I don’t understand how we can avoid these worldview discussions in the realm of public policy.  Rather than pretending our worldviews don’t matter, let’s follow Guinness’ lead and cultivate a climate of civility where we can learn to how to interact with each other without coming to violence.

  • Grainne McDonald

    Thank you for all your helpful posts.

    I agrre with all that Os Guiness is trying to do – with one proviso. Too much of an emphasis on ‘civility’ troubles me. Sometimes a robust response is called for – in robust terms. And sometimes any reponse will be viewed as ‘uncivil’ by opponents of the faith. I refer particularly to Islam. This system of belief opposes Christ in every respect and should be exposed for what it is. It is not possible to argue against Islam without being accused of ‘intolerance’ etc. The role of victim has been espoused very cleverly by the Muslim community. Even making truthful statements about the Person of Christ is viewed as sherk and Islam has no hesitation about the fate of infidels and apostates. The great Jay Smith is an example to us all.
    Perhaps I may also point out that Os Guiness sees secularism as the great opponent of the faith. I think that Islam is more global in its reach and will never tolerate freedom of religion, whereas secularism in many areas will allow for this. Antichrist shows up in many forms – and Islam seems to be the most fearful of all at the moment.

  • Unfortunately, such are not uncommon in the Anglican Communion. As an Episcopalian, the main expression of Anglicanism in the US, I know a number of folks who would agree with her, even in my own solidly orthodox parish. I have heard a number of Episcopal clergy around the country, and even a few bishops who would agree with Ms Warnock, but that’s another blog topic!

    These folks principally reverse the causal order of the “Christian Story” and the associated moral teaching. They often would hold the moral teaching as “true” in abstract, or as the accumulated social wisdom of our culture. The “Christian Story” would then be tails, myths and legends intended to communicate, reinforce, illustrate and explain this wisdom. They have no more importance, and no more need for validity in themselves than does the story of G. Washington and the cherry tree.

    Of course, this runs into the issues raised in this blog before about the ultimate source of moral behavior. There is probably no need to rehash that here.

    When I have spoken with one of my friends on Ms Warnock’s side of the street about the worship service itself, I was a bit bemused by his comments on the Nicene Creed. He can happily affirm with us “We believe…” when he would find it impossible in good conscience to say “I believe…” (the first person singular being the older formulae). In his opinion, the “we believe” simply attests that this creed is the official teaching of the group here assembled, and in no way suggests that he personally agrees or ought to agree with that teaching.

  • Matt

    It sounds like she’s relegating Jesus to a “good moral teacher” but if he were only a man then he would have blasphemed God, thereby disqualifying himself as a good moral teacher. That was a little off topic, but it just goes to show how ridiculous Warnock’s position is.

    Eric,
    I think I agree with what you’re saying about the Nicene creed. If the group says “we believe….” and the individual cannot truthfully say “I believe ….” then the only logical conclusion is that he does not belong to that group. That goes for any creed. Even if his entire congregation cannot say “I believe….” they are not among the larger group of believers. To be a believer you must personally believe the creed (from the Latin word credo, literally “I believe”). I don’t mean to sound exclusive. If you want be a believer, then believe the gospel. You are the only thing that can keep you from believing.

  • Todd Pratt

    I think this is an easy question and can be answered with “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Even though Christianity is false, there are several good moral precepts that can be gleaned from its stories.

  • Andrew Ryan

    ” How can the Christian or anyone else argue over morality without eventually bringing in the basis for their moral beliefs?”

    I guess it comes down to whether you think Christ’s teachings stand up on their own. Are they intrinsically good, or are they only good because of who you think he was? If the latter, then that’s actually a concession.

    By not referring to the question of Jesus’ divinity, one is forced to examine Christ’s teachings on their own merits. Surely that’s as it should be, if you want to convince others.