I long since stopped blogging on atheism, deeming it often a waste of time and occasionally counterproductive. Sometimes, however, the issue merits revisiting. After rereading some old classics, I find the following quotation worth sharing:
When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God has truth—it stands or falls with faith in God.
In this quotation, many of my readers will immediately detect the echo of Van Til, or Bahnsen, or some other related apologist infused with “worldview,” or presuppositional thinking. Such a guess comes close in content, but misses widely. The surprise: this quotation flows candidly—and insightfully!—from arch-atheist Friedrich Nietzsche.1 This is not, of course, to say that Van Til derived his ideas from reading Nietzsche—highly unlikely. The point—completely lost on modern atheists—is that when you strike down Christianity, Christian morality necessarily goes with it. Nietzsche candidly professed this, as did his earlier French counterpart Marquis de Sade: no God, no moral imperatives; no “thou shalt,” and no “thou shalt not.” Only, “I will.”
But modern atheists have not only ignored this logical conclusion, they have actually attempted to attack Christianity in the name of Christian morality, calling the Christian God cruel, bloodthirsty, racist, sadomasochistic, etc.2 Richard Dawkins’s famous book begins an early chapter with such accusations and much more. Whence the moral outrage?
Nietzsche’s honesty above grows all the more relevant (and this is what sparked me to write this article) when we read his context: he wrote the above as a commentary on the English writer George Eliot, decrying her clinging to morality despite her rejection of God. In fact, according to some accounts, and just as Dawkins, she attacked Christianity in the name of morality, calling the faith “immoral.” Nietzsche spies the “English” inconsistency and condemns her (and thus Dawkins) as a weak, effeminate, and illogical atheist. He writes:
G. Elliot: They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality. This is an English inconsistency: we do not wish to hold it against little moralistic females à la Eliot. In England [then and now, apparently] one must rehabilitate oneself after ever little emancipation from theology by showing in a veritably awe-inspiring manner what a moral fanatic one is. That is the penance they pay there.
We others hold otherwise. . . . [then follows the earlier quotation]3
Upon reading this again, I could not help but think of today’s little rosy-cheeked moralist, Dawkins, preaching against the cosmic bully of the Old Testament, and denouncing the extremes of religion—all the while unaware that he and his audience must have the morality of Christendom under their feet in order for those denunciations to have much effect or even meaning. Still English, yes, and still inconsistent.
Nietzsche blows up the charade:
When the English actually believe that they know “intuitively” what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion: such that the origin of English morality has been forgotten, such that the very conditional character of its right to existence is no longer felt. For the English, morality is not yet a problem.4
For this reason—for his fearless and relentless consistency—I love reading Nietzsche. The arch-atheist—the honest, consistent atheist—foils all the prominent modern atheists. He knows and admits that Dawkins’ moral indignation arises from the very God he denounces. Nietzsche knows that such moral fire only expresses the prior power and dominion of Christianity. Nietzsche knows that moral indignation itself is borrowed capital from Christendom.
Unlike Dawkins, however, Nietzsche refused to keep pretending. Nietzsche had the intellect to see the connection, and the guts to admit the outcome of his worldview. Modern atheism, apparently, has neither. For them, Christian society provides them enough comfort to enjoy the peace and tolerance of Christian rules while denying the existence of the Rule-giver. For them, morality is not yet a problem—simply because they refuse to admit it. Well, despite the “flatheads,” “this point has to be exhibited again and again,” and I don’t mind letting Nietzsche do so for us.
And just wait until you seem him do the same thing with . . . science!
- Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols,” The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 515–6.(↩)
- See Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 31.(↩)
- Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols,” The Portable Nietzsche, 515.(↩)
- Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols,” The Portable Nietzsche, 516.(↩)