Can Secularists Survive Without Christianity?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Most secularists would laugh at this question, but not one. I ran across an article written a few years ago (thanks to the link provided by J. Warner Wallace) by an atheist,  John D. Steinrucken, that goes beyond acknowledging the debt secularists owes Christianity. He actually castigates those secularists who attack Christianity as irresponsible.

Steinrucken opens the article with this grenade:

Succinctly put: Western civilization’s survival, including the survival of open secular thought, depends on the continuance within our society of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

How so? Steinrucken goes on to make his case:

Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society?

Steinrucken challenges secularists to provide a transcendent moral code for our society:

Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! The best answer we can ever hear from secularists to this question is a hodgepodge of strained relativist talk of situational ethics. They can cite no overriding authority other than that of fashion. For the great majority in the West, it is the Judeo-Christian tradition which offers a template assuring a life of inner peace toward the world at large — a peace which translates to a workable liberal society.

Steinrucken admits that most men need God and reminds us that

so many of those who have forsaken the God of their fathers (it has been fashionable to do so) are now reaching for meaning in eastern exotica, new-age mumbo-jumbo, and other attempts to fill the spiritual hole.

He warns of the consequences of rejecting the Christian heritage of the West:

To the extent that Western elites distance themselves from their Judeo-Christian cultural heritage in favor of secular constructs, and as they give deference to a multicultural acceptance that all beliefs are of equal validity, they lose their will to defend against a determined attack from another culture, such as from militant Islam. For having destroyed the ancient faith of their people, they will have found themselves with nothing to defend.

What is Steinrucken’s advice to the atheist elites?

If the elitists of our Western civilization want to survive, then it is incumbent upon them to see to the preservation of the hoary, time-honored faith of the great majority of the people. This means that our elitists should see that their most valued vested interest is the preservation within our culture of Christianity and Judaism.

Steinrucken has recognized what Christians have been pointing out for centuries to those secularists who live amongst us: secularism is parasitic of the  Christian worldview. It incessantly borrows intellectual and moral capital from Christianity without ever admitting it is doing so. At least one secularist finally admits it. Hopefully the rest will come around.

  • “Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion?”

    Can anyone seriously argue that it IS? Are non-religious people more crime-prone and debauched than religious people? No. No, they’re not. End of argument.

    The man basically seems to argue “Well I don’t need religion to be be good, but the great unwashed obviously do.” Not just unconvincing, but pretty patronising too.

    Bill, would YOU go on a debauched crime spree if you lost your religion?

  • I think he’s making more of a statement about the existence of the Christian moral tradition providing a stable foundation for our modern western societies. This stable foundation is completely taken for granted by secularists who live in these societies. It’s the air that all the secularists breathe while they deny that they need air to breathe at all.

    Non-religious people living in modern western societies largely behave themselves in the midst of this Christian tradition. Steinrucken is arguing that if this foundation is chiseled away and removed, then the civility and rule of law which we all take for granted will erode.

    I think he is spot on.

  • I find myself in agreement with Steinrucken’s point—I do think Christianity in the American culture is keeping some people in check. (While admittedly causing harm in other facets.) The constant struggle is whether the good outweighs the harm. Not an easy answer.

    I’m not sure, Bill Pratt, you understand the point being made. It is not…exactly…complimentary to Christianity. Steinrucken agrees rationality and secularism provides better answers to life questions (in reading the article) but some people are not smart enough to understand, and therefore for the uninformed it is better to have some social parameters in place, and Christianity is as good as anything else.

    In other words, Christianity is sufficient for those unwilling or unable to think, as Islam would be much worse. Again—not exactly a compliment to Christianity. (Indeed, there is a strain of intellectual elitism throughout the article. I am a bit surprised you find it favorable to your theistic position.)

  • There is a strong strain of elitism in the article, and I think it can be read as condescending and patronizing toward Christians. However, just because I do not agree with everything the author is writing does not mean that I cannot agree with some things the author is writing.

    A back-handed compliment is better than no compliment at all. At least Steinrucken is not taking the absurd position of the new atheists, that Christianity is altogether evil and detrimental in every way to society.

  • Todd

    I think the evidence might be against you. Take Denmark and Sweden for example. They are among the least religious countries in the world. They enjoy the lowest crime rates, highest social equality, best standards of living and survey as the most contented people…

  • Low crime rates, high social equality, standards of living and contentment has little to do with religion or lack of religion. It can be a contributing factor, yes, but is not a defining factor or substantial evidence of any kind.

  • And yet if Bill’s claim were true, one would expect to see a positive correlation between religiosity and low crime rates, for example, whereas we actually see a negative correlation. Certainly, I find it hard to what evidence there is for the claim.

  • tom

    this article isn’t saying the being religious makes us behave better or worse. it is saying that if we want to banish it, making ourselves strictly without religion and every man for himself, then what would be stopping us from chaos?

    rather than truly face the implications of this question, I believe that we prefer to lean on religious tradition, that states that life is sacred, so never kill, rape etc. If anyone asks why not, we say, because it’s just wrong. But, if secularism is true, it isn’t ‘just wrong’, it is only wrong for certain individuals, it may not be for others. I’m of course aware of atheist intellectuals who try to establish a moral framework. I think what they say is highly relativistic though.

    and surely if the universe is an accident with no intelligence behind it, and we are all just an accidental collocation of atoms (Rousseau), then surely whatever we say and do has just been determined by the laws of physics up to this point. So how, then, is any behaviour right or wrong? The implications of atheism boggle my mind.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “it is saying that if we want to banish it, making ourselves strictly without religion and every man for himself”

    Why tie that last point in with the other two? Why does being without religion have to mean ‘every man for himself’? There’s nothing of that philosophy in, say, humanism.

    And whoever talked about ‘banishing’ religion? I’ve not heard a single public atheist calling for religion to be banned.

    “But, if secularism is true”

    Secularism just means separated from religion. A secular state isn’t the same as an atheist one.

    “whatever we say and do has just been determined by the laws of physics up to this point”

    Even if you believe in a God-given free will, it still follows that everything that happens is part of God’s plan, and was known to him a billion years before you were born.

    “I think what they say is highly relativistic though.”

    What’s relativistic about humanism, about helping others?

  • Tony Jiang

    please tell that to China, moral tradtions in China are not depedent on God and have not for thousands of years and its foundation seemed far more stable, as after all China is still around after all these years, but where is Rome? Where is Egypt?