The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Conservatism Without God is Dead

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Heather MacDonald, writing in USA Today, argues that “conservative principles . . . are best grounded in reason and evidence, not revelation.”[1] She goes on to state that “conservatives atheists and agnostics vigorously support the two-parent family because the life chances of children raised by both their biological parents are demonstrably superior to children raised by single mothers. Moreover, when marriage disappears as a community norm, so do civilizing constraints on male behavior. It doesn’t take Bible study to see this. Conservatives do not need God to prove the value of marriage; the sad state of the inner city is testament enough.”

I dare say that I could find a number of people who also believe in “reason and evidence” over against revelation who would not agree with MacDonald’s support of the “two-parent family” model or that marriage has a civilizing affect on males or that marriage is even necessary. She is evaluating the evidence through an existing paradigm, a moral order established in creation which has permeated American society for 400 years. Of course, we don’t need to study the Bible to know this, because God made these things evident to us (Rom. 1:18–32). Paul argues that “when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (2:14–15). Take God out of the picture, and creation and the law go with Him, and Paul could not make his argument. With a godless paradigm, our understanding is “darkened,” we become “ignorant” (Eph. 4:18), and the conscious is calloused (4:19) and seared (1 Tim. 4:2). If people are repeatedly told that God has nothing to do with morality, then what is the basis for moral behavior?

MacDonald talks about “the value of marriage.” Later in her article, she points out that her former boss, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, appealed to “secular values” to return New York City “to civility.” This is the same man who is married for the third time. During the 2000 New York Senate race, Giuliani dropped out of the contest because it was learned that the “values mayor” was cheating on his second wife in broad daylight! He is on his third marriage.

In addition, MacDonald paints a rosy picture of how Giuliani cleaned up crime-ridden New York “by an appeal to secular values alone.” (Of course, “values” is a borrowed-capital term that cannot be accounted for by a materialist.) MacDonald tells us that the former mayor “spoke relentlessly about the need for personal responsibility and respect for social order; he based his policies on principles that non-believers and believers alike could test against their own experience.” Is she kidding? She gives the impression that Giuliani gave a “can’t we all get along” speech, and all the criminals stopped their criminal activity. In fact, he implemented an aggressive enforcement strategy by cracking down on subway fare evasion, public drinking, urinators, and the “squeegee men” who had been wiping windshields of stopped cars and demanding payment.[2] It was the fear of punishment that reduced most of the criminal activity.

MacDonald’s value judgments are not based on anything inherent in autonomous reason. To what obligation does reason hold a person beyond community norms which can change with a change in community? Will reason hold me accountable if I don’t reason properly? Even atheist Kai Nielsen understands that morality cannot be objectified with an appeal to materialistic and naturalistic assumptions:

We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons, unhoodwinked by myth or ideology, need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here.

The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. . . . The point is this: pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.[3]

Note Nielsen’s last point and how it contradicts MacDonald’s premise: “pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.” Conservatives like MacDonald pretend “that there are neutral facts or neutral methods for examining the facts.”[4] They believe that the right use of the brain alone can settle these issues. C.S. Lewis describes the dilemma of the materialist who takes this view:

“If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. . . . Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”[5]

The only way Heather MacDonald can see enough to make reasoned moral judgments is because she is using the light of God’s creation as her beacon. Let’s see her be fully committed to the random and materialistic assumptions of her professed atheistic worldview and see where it leads us.


[1] Heather MacDonald, “Conservatism doesn’t need God,” USA Today (October 21, 2006), 13A.
[2] Fixing Broken Windows
[3] Kai Nielsen, “Why Should I Be Moral?,” American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (January 1984), 90.
[4] Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), 640–641.
[5] C.S. Lewis, They Asked for a Paper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962), 164–165.

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