Chris O’Dowd is an actor who made some comments about religion in Britain’s GQ magazine. Being an actor doesn’t make him any smarter or dumber than anybody else. His opinions are one in around 7 billion at any given time. Opinions are free, and he’s free to espouse them, even if they display a great deal of ignorance.
His role as an actor, however, gives him a platform for his ideas that most people do not have. As a result, they deserve greater scrutiny (James 3:1).
“O’Dowd thinks following a religion will eventually become as offensive and unacceptable as racism. . . . He says religious doctrine is halting human progress and brands it ‘a weird cult.’” No doubt there are some religionists that are halting human progress. Islam is a good example. Also, climate change dogmatists.
Like all atheists, O’Dowd is an atheist living off the stolen capital of a specifically Christian worldview. The Western world that gives him his freedoms, technology, medicine, art, legal system, and so much more was conceived in the womb of Christianity.
The Bible states unequivocally that an atheist is a “fool” (Psalm 14:1; also see 10:4; 36:1; 53:1). Keep in mind that in biblical terms calling somebody a fool is serious business. Jesus said so Himself (Matt. 5:22). But it’s the Bible that states that a self-admitted atheist is a fool. It’s definitional. Atheist = fool.
This is easy to show in a number of ways. First, the Bible maintains that everybody knows God exists, “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20; see Ps. 19:1-2). Atheists suppress the truth of God’s existence for any number of reasons, but fundamentally it’s to give them intellectual and moral autonomy.
Second, there is nothing in our world that does not have a cause. The shoes and suit O’Dowd wears, the production of the films he stars in (cameras, lights, video tape, microphones, etc.), the automobiles he drives, the house where he lives were designed and manufactured by intelligent beings. There are no exceptions. And yet he claims with certainty, as less than a mere speck in the expanse of the universe, that there is no God behind it all. That is the nature of the fool. He could not be so foolish about anything else, but of this, that there is no God, he is certain and extolled and praised by his peers.
Third, a true atheist could never live consistently with his or her atheism. If someone came out of a crowd and killed O’Dowd, there is nothing in the darkness of space or in the atomic structure of the cosmos that could or would say that the act was a grave moral evil. O’Dowd’s permanent end would be no different from that of history’s greatest mass murderers since there is no one to judge beyond the grave. Hitler and others may be vilified on this side of death, but not on the other side. At death all the mass murderers of history would be morally equal to Chris O’Dowd.
Fourth, we have evidence of what a world without the Christian religion would be like. Joseph Pearce writes the following in his article “Guillotine, Gulag and Gas Chamber: The Glorious Gifts of Atheism to Humanity”:
The first great atheist uprising was the French Revolution, which sought to dethrone God with godless “Reason” and sought to replace the Holy Trinity with the atheist trinity of “liberté, egalité et fraternité.” The man who is traditionally attributed with coining this triune revolutionary war-cry, which would later be officially adopted as the motto of the French Republic, was Antoine-Francois Momoro, a rabidly anti-Christian radical who advocated the eradication of religion. He played an active and bloodthirsty role in the crushing of the Catholic peasants of the Vendée and was a key figure in the notorious Cult of Reason, an anthropocentric alternative to religion, which effectively enthroned self-worshipping Man as the Lord of the “enlightened” cosmos. In 1793, Momoro supervised the nationally celebrated Fête de la Raison (Festival of Reason) in which his own wife was dressed and paraded as the Goddess of Reason, surrounded by cavorting and costumed women. In a wild and licentious liturgical dance, the Goddess of Reason processed down the aisle of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, surrounded by her female entourage, to a newly-installed altar to Liberty, the Christian altar having been desecrated and removed. All across France, Christian churches were desecrated and re-established as Temples of Reason.
The Cult of Reason metamorphosed into the Reign of Terror in which the streets of Paris literally ran red with the blood of its victims. The Goddess of Reason made way for Madame Guillotine who was omnivorous in her bloodlustful appetite, devouring Christians and atheists alike.
A little over four months after Momoro’s triumphalist Fête de la Raison, Momoro was himself a victim of the Reign of Terror that he had helped to create. Accused by his erstwhile comrades of being an enemy of the revolution, he was guillotined on March 24, 1794, a timely reminder of the words of the French political journalist, Jacques Mallet du Pan, that “the Revolution devours its own children.”
The French Revolution is still celebrated in France and is often compared to our War for Independence. “Bastille Day” is celebrated on July 14th as a national holiday. Festivities and official ceremonies are held all over France. It is also celebrated in Belgium, Hungary, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and in more than 50 cities across the United States.
The murdering mobs that attacked the nearly empty Bastille (at the time of the siege there were only seven non-political prisoners) believed their actions were for a better France, similar to what contemporary political revolutionaries have in mind today. The storming of the Bastille was a catalyst for what became known as the Reign of Terror. “French society underwent an epic transformation as feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from left-wing political groups and the masses on the streets.” How bad was it?
Internally, popular sentiments radicalized the Revolution significantly, culminating in the rise of Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins and virtual dictatorship by the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror from 1793 until 1794 during which between 16,000 and 40,000 people were killed.
Did you get that? Between 16,000 and 40,000 French citizens were killed in a year for a better France. Consider the following:
Ordered by the king [Louis XVI] to surrender, more than 600 Swiss guards were savagely murdered. The mobs ripped them to shreds and mutilated their corpses. “Women, lost to all sense of shame,” said one surviving witness, “were committing the most indecent mutilations on the dead bodies from which they tore pieces of flesh and carried them off in triumph.” Children played kickball with the guards’ heads. Every living thing in the Tuileries [royal palace in Paris] was butchered or thrown from the windows by the hooligans. Women were raped before being hacked to death.
The Jacobin club . . . demanded that the piles of rotting, defiled corpses surrounding the Tuileries be left to putrefy in the street for days afterward as a warning to the people of the power of the extreme left.
This bestial attack, it was later decreed, would be celebrated every year as “the festival of the unity and indivisibility of the republic.” It would be as if families across America delighted in the annual TV special “A Manson Family Christmas.”1
In time, the just cause of the revolutionary mobs got out of hand, and people began to notice. “During the Reign of Terror, extreme efforts of de-Christianization ensued, including the imprisonment and massacre of priests and destruction of churches and religious images throughout France. An effort was made to replace the Catholic Church altogether, with civic festivals replacing religious ones. The establishment of the Cult of Reason was the final step of radical de-Christianization.” It was at this point that the people became disillusioned with the revolutionary ways of the radicals, but not before more atrocities were committed for the salvation of the people and the nation.
O’Dowd speaks of “human progress.” I’m reading the fascinating new book How the West Won by Rodney Stark. Stark’s opening paragraph in chapter 8 is a refutation of O’Dowd’s premise:
The most fundamental key to the rise of Western civilization has been the dedication of so many of its most brilliant minds to the pursuit of knowledge. Not to illumination. Not to enlightenment. Not to wisdom. But to knowledge. And the basis for this commitment to knowledge was the Christian commitment to theology.
The Scholastics were fine scholars who founded Europe’s great universities, formulated and taught the experimental method, and launched Western science.
Stark compares and contrasts the Christian West with the non-Christian East where there are no theologians. “Theology necessitates an image of God (one God, not many gods) as a conscious, rational, supernatural being of unlimited power and scope.”
Stark makes the important point that an “all-powerful God is not enough to sustain theology; it is also necessary to think it is legitimate to apply human reason to questions about God. That is why there are no Muslim theologians.”
“Muslim clerics,” Stark writes, “have rejected science as heretical because they believe that natural laws imply limits to Allah’s freedom to act.” They also “deny the legitimacy of relying on human reason to expand their understanding of Allah.”
In his chapter “Science Comes of Age,” Stark offers this summary:
Science arose only in Christian Europe because only medieval Europeans believed that science was possible and desirable. . . . Advances in both science and technology occurred not in spite of Christianity but because of it. Contrary to conventional wisdom, science did not suddenly flourish once Europe cast aside religious “superstitions” during the so-called Enlightenment. Science arose in the West—and only in the West—precisely because the Judeo-Christian conception of God encouraged and even demanded this pursuit.
In Stark’s earlier book The Victory of Reason we find that without a Christian worldview there would not have been the rise of modern science:
Real science arose only once: in Europe. China, Islam, India, and ancient Greece and Rome each had a highly developed alchemy. But only in Europe did alchemy develop into chemistry. By the same token, many societies developed elaborate systems of astrology, but only in Europe did astrology lead to astronomy. Why? Again, the answer has to do with images of God.
* * * * *
In contrast with the dominant religious and philosophical doctrines in the non-Christian world, Christians developed science because they believed it could be done, and should be done. As Alfred North Whitehead put it during one of his Lowell Lectures at Harvard in 1925, science arose in Europe because of the widespread ‘faith in the possibility of science . . . derivative from medieval theology.’”2
In cultures where progress was made in mathematics, science, medicine, political theory, and law, people assumed that the world was not an illusion, that truth mattered, and man was a rational being created by a rational God even though at times man behaved irrationally and believed irrational things.
Cultures that believed that spirits inhabited trees, rocks, and animals made very little progress culturally and scientifically because they never knew what the spirits might do. There was never a guarantee that what people did one day could be repeated at as future time. They were at the mercy of what they believed were impersonal forces controlled by capricious gods who were always changing the rules.
Pagan religions are typically animistic or pantheistic, treating the natural world either as the abode of the divine or as an emanation of God’s own essence. The most familiar form of animism holds that spirits or gods reside in nature. In the words of Harvey Cox, a Baptist theologian, pagan man “lives in an enchanted forest.” Glens and groves, rocks and streams are alive with spirits, sprites, demons. Nature teems with sun gods, river goddesses, astral deities.3
These false operational assumptions meant that the world could not be studied in a reliable and systematic way. “As long as nature commands religious worship, dissecting her is judged impious. As long as the world is charged with divine beings and powers, the only appropriate response is to supplicate them or ward them off.”4
James B. Jordan writes something similar:
Technology is a purely Christian thing. It is impossible to take a technological view of the world in a pagan culture, partly because the world is seen as inhabited by spirits who will be offended if we manipulate the world, and partly because the means of manipulation is seen as magical, the use of mental and/or ritual occult powers.
It is Christian faith which pronounces the world free of demons and spirits, and which encourages men to manipulate it. It is Christian faith which says that men cannot and must not try to play god (via magic), and which directs men to the use of tools (technology) as a means of dominion. . . . The development of tools (technology) is exclusively Christian, and has happened beyond a very marginal degree only in the West. Indeed, the two great eras for technological development were the Christian Middle Ages, and the protestant industrial Revolution.5
O’Dowd needs to read beyond his limited knowledge if he does not want to sound like a fool and meet a fool’s end. If he doesn’t want to read what non-atheist historians write on the history of science, technology, and progress, maybe he’ll pay attention to a fellow atheist and secular humanist like Tim O’Neill (O’Neill describes himself as a “wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, occasionally arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard.)) at Armarium Magnum:
The myth goes that the Greeks and Romans were wise and rational types who loved science and were on the brink of doing all kinds of marvelous things (inventing full-scale steam engines is one example that is usually, rather fancifully, invoked) until Christianity came along, banned all learning and rational thought and ushered in the Dark Ages. Then an iron-fisted theocracy, backed by a Gestapo-style Inquisition, prevented any science or questioning inquiry from happening until Leonardo da Vinci invented intelligence and the wondrous Renaissance saved us all from Medieval darkness. The online manifestations of this curiously quaint but seemingly indefatigable idea range from the touchingly clumsy to the utterly hysterical, but it remains one of those things that “everybody knows” and permeates modern culture. A recent episode of Family Guy had Stewie and Brian enter a futuristic alternative world where, it was explained, things were so advanced because Christianity didn’t destroy learning, usher in the Dark Ages and stifle science. The writers didn’t see the need to explain what Stewie meant — they assumed everyone understood.
Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, is behind the reboot of Carl Sagan’s 13-part film series Cosmos: A Personal Journey now entitled Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. You know the history behind the series is bad when the writers drag out the non-scientist Giordiano Bruno (1548-1600) as an example of the church’s persecution of advocates of modern scientific methods just so they could take a jab at religion as a barrier to scientific discovery. The problem is, this supposed “martyr for science,” as O’Neill and other historians with integrity tell it, was an “irritating mystical New Age kook” who was not on trial for his Copernican views. Stark describes him as “a renegade monk, a Hermetic sorcerer, and something of a philosopher. His troubles had to do entirely with a heretical theology involving the existence of an infinite number of worlds [among other things]—a work based entirely on imagination and speculation.”6
Even the science magazine Discover takes the content of Cosmos to task by making Giordano Bruno the focus of the first episode. Corey S. Powell writes that the depiction of Bruno “in the new Cosmos matches the standard textbook story of Bruno, but it is misleading and in some ways downright wrong.”
O’Dowd has aligned himself with the greatest enemies of “human progress” that history has known—the atheistic regimes of the 20th century. He has more in common with the Soviet League of the Militant Godless7 than he does with the culture builders that made our world that gives him the freedom to say idiotic things about the reality and nature of God.
- Ann Coulter, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2011), 107.(↩)
- Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005), 14.(↩)
- Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 23–24.(↩)
- Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, 24.(↩)
- James B. Jordan, “Popular Fictional Literature,” The Geneva Review (April 1984), 2.(↩)
- Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press, 2003), 127.(↩)
- Daniel Peris, Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).(↩)