A couple of weeks ago the bureaucrats of the European Union surprised the world with a decision: They banned the claims that regular consumption of water can reduce the risk of dehydration; anyone who prints such claim on their water bottles will be liable to fine and up to two years in jail. Or may be they didn’t surprise the world; Europeans still remember how a few years back the same bureaucrats banned bent bananas and curved cucumbers from being sold commercially. There was a difference, though; while the previous decisions were made on the basis of momentary whims – and later were repealed after ridicule and criticisms by the public – this time the decision was based on a three years study and several meetings between 21 top scientists, organized and paid the European Union. It takes a collective of government-paid scientists to come to such scientific conclusion; plain common sense wouldn’t do the job. Think desert nomads who have to battle dehydration every day; they always look for water. Savage, unscientific fools.
The European media reacted with vitriolic ridicule. Some conservative politicians couldn’t resist to comment on the stupidity and lack of common sense of the socialist-liberal bureaucratic elite. Producers of bottled water vowed to challenge the “misguided” law in court. Interest groups made claims that the law is motivated by financial and economic interests among the elite in Brussels.
But it will be a mistake to believe that such law is simply the product of stupidity, lack of common sense, “misguidedness,” or vested interests. While such conclusion seems natural, it misses the fact that the bureaucrats in Brussels are not necessarily the dumbest creatures in this world; if anything, some of them are quite intelligent. It also misses the fact that top scientists have participated in coining the decision. And while interests are most often the factor for bureaucratic decisions, they are usually direct interests; and direct interests are seldom affected by common sense ideas printed on labels. No one expects a large redistribution scheme or a re-direction of consumer interest because of a simple sound word of practical wisdom that is not printed on a label.
The reason for the decision must be sought elsewhere. Like everything else, it must be sought in the religious commitment of the bureaucrats in Brussels. Of course they know the conclusions of the three-year “scientific study” are stupid, and they are at odds with reality. Of course they know they will be ridiculed by all who still have at least a portion of common sense remaining. And yet the decision was made, against all reality, against the expected public outrage, against the ridicule and criticisms from the press.
Such tenacity can’t be explained with stupidity. It can only be explained with sticking to one’s religious guns. The bureaucrats have a religion that places higher demands on them than public opinion, reality, common sense, and personal reputation do.
But in order to understand that religious commitment as motivation, we will have to go back in history.
In 1770, the 76-year-old Voltaire published his most curious but least known work. It was a poem-letter-response titled Epistle to the Author of the Book the Three Impostors. It was a reply to a book by an anonymous author, The Treatise of the Three Impostors, which circulated in France at the time. The story of The Treatise is longer and goes deeper in history than France in the 18th century, so we won’t spend the time and space to review it here. The book was a piece of radical atheism denouncing any belief in any god whatsoever, and advocated militant atheism and opposition to faith in any supernatural or transcendent being. By the 1750s the book had become a fad among the intellectual elite in France. Given the enormous influence of Voltaire and his indefatigable intellectual war against Christianity and the Church, it was taken for granted that the popularity of the book was due partly to the popularity of Voltaire and his arguments against Christianity. After all, by his unsurpassed wit and the superb quality of his writings, he almost single-handedly changed the reigning intellectual paradigms in France. Even in his time the atheists – few and far between at the time – were looking up to him as their champion. There were also rumors that Voltaire himself could have been the author of the Treatise in his young years.
Voltaire, the last sane critic of Christianity to ever walk the earth, decided to take on the anonymous pamphlet. He hated Christianity with a vengeance, and that was obvious. But he also was faithful to his ideal of “reason,” of building a world of order, liberty, and justice. Quite a few times in his life he would wake up from his hatred and look at Christianity for what it really was, beyond the imperfections of the Roman clergy dominant in France at the time. Try as hard and he could, he couldn’t see how rational men would be able to define ethics, morality, aesthetics, values, even reality without God. A few times before writing the Epistle he had used the phrase, “If God didn’t exist, we would have to invent him.” It wasn’t an empty phrase, nor was it tongue-in-cheek, as his modern atheist admirers are desperately trying to prove. He was so serious about it that he wrote to a friend that “I am rarely satisfied with my lines, but I confess that I have a father’s tenderness for that one.” Voltaire meant it, seriously. He knew that once God was removed from the picture, there was no foundation for any order, reason, or ethics whatsoever. He himself tried to imagine such a world, and couldn’t. So while he may have been tempted to become a radical atheist, rejecting the existence of God whatsoever, his reason led him to adopt a less radical anti-Christian position: Deism. No God, no reason. Voltaire wanted reason; so he had to accept the existence of God, even if only for the purposes of remaining sane and reasonable.
Voltaire’s response bears no resemblance whatsoever to his previous works. Gone is the skillful irony, gone is the almost magical ability to convey ideas in an indirect manner; the laid-back philosophe with the subtle smile and relaxed style is nowhere to be seen. In the Epistle, Voltaire’s style can be compared to an intellectual sledgehammer upon the head of the poor anonymous author. Voltaire points to him the obvious: that there would be no system of ethics, and there would be no liberty nor safety nor hope of justice if it wasn’t for the existence of God:
My lodging is filled with lizards and rats;
But the architect exists, and anyone who denies it
Is touched with madness under the guise of wisdom….
This sublime system is necessary to man.
It is the sacred tie that binds society,
The first foundation of holy equity,
The bridle to the wicked, the hope of the just.
If the heavens, stripped of his noble imprint,
Could ever cease to attest to his being,
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Let the wise man announce him and kings fear him.
Kings, if you oppress me, if your eminencies disdain
The tears of the innocent that you cause to flow,
My avenger is in the heavens: learn to tremble.
Such, at least, is the fruit of a useful creed.
And then Voltaire asks: What fruit do you expect?
But you, faulty logician, whose sad foolishness
Dares to reassure them in the path of crime,
What fruit do you expect to reap from your fine arguments?
Will your children be more obedient to your voice?
Your friends, at time of need, more useful and reliable?
Your wife more honest? and your new renter,
For not believing in God, will he pay you better?
Alas! let’s leave intact human belief in fear and hope.
No wonder this poem of Voltaire is the least known among his works today; modern atheists refuse to even mention it, and even professors of French literature at universities duly miss to reveal its existence to their students. In several verses, Voltaire, the homeboy of the modern atheist connoisseurs of philosophy, completely destroyed the case for atheism and argued the case for Christianity better than most Christians in his time. In fact, given the fact that Voltaire made the connection between the faith in God and the social values of justice, liberty, marital fidelity and family integrity, economic honesty, which even most Christians today don’t make, he argued our case better than 90 percent of our modern pastors!
Voltaire had only one flaw in his argument. His own hatred toward God was tempered by his honest desire to keep the reason, the meaning, the order, the ethical restraints, and the view of reality that the Christian faith produced. He thought that all men would be like him, faithful to reason, order, ethics, and reality. But he was wrong. He was unique in his ability to keep his sanity even in his hatred toward God. No one else after him was able to do it.
Even as he was writing his poem, about 200 miles south from his estate, another Frenchman was beginning to write a book that would challenge Voltaire’s assumptions about human reason and motivation. Marquis de Sade, consistent in his rebellion against God, came to the conclusion that a man’s war against God is not over until man has developed his own system of ethical rules that is totally opposed to the one in the Bible. It was not enough to have a system that resembles Christian morality and just declare man as its author; even the existence of such a system of ethics would be a testimony to the existence and the sovereignty of God. Therefore, in order to establish the centrality of Man’s reason and ethics against God’s reason and ethics, the testimony for God in reason and ethics must be destroyed by Man adopting his own system of reason and ethics in opposition to God’s system. Hence de Sade’s sexual brutality against people weaker than him: It was deliberate, an attempt of man to deny God His sovereignty by establishing his own system of ethics, completely opposed to God and His system of ethics.
De Sade was much more consistent intellectually than Voltaire. Ironically, he was confined to asylums for most of his life for his insanity; while Voltaire was praised as one of the greatest minds of the Age of Reason. This is the dilemma for a non-Christian: be either sane and intellectually inconsistent, or consistent and insane.
The controversy didn’t end with the death of de Sade; neither did the dilemma. A century after the death of de Sade, Nietzsche attacked the “English inconsistency” of George Eliot, as Joel McDurmon shows in his article, “When Atheists Had Guts.” Again we see the same dilemma: Eliot, sane (almost) but inconsistent, and Nietzsche, almost inhumanly consistent in his intellectual writings, but insane. Eliot, like Voltaire, couldn’t let go of her love for order and reason and common morality; thus her repudiation of her Christian faith was incomplete because these very principles testify of God. Nietzsche, like de Sade, knew that Christianity was a package deal – faith and ethics – and therefore he threw both out; but paid the price for it: insanity.
Voltaire’s fears were justified when just a few years after his death not just de Sade, but the whole nation of France engaged in an orgy of debauchery, theft, murder, strife. God was thrown out of the churches and replaced with the goddess of Reason. The goddess though did not bring the universal brotherhood of man; she proved to be bloodthirsty, and even the blood of millions could not satisfy her. Later, Hitler and Stalin proved that Voltaire was right, and that a world without God only brings tyranny, oppression, poverty, hopelessness. And blood. A lot of blood. Without God, there is no “bridle to the wicked,” and no “hope for the just.”
But men do not learn. No matter how much Voltaire was proven right, the very idea of God is abhorrent to men whose hearts have risen in rebellion against Him. And the very idea of sound reason and morality are abhorrent to them because they testify of a higher, transcendental authority; any idea of moral rules and scruples tell man that he is not the source of his own meaning, and life, and purpose. God is. So moral rules and scruples must be rejected, twisted, destroyed, so that there is no testimony to bother and annoy the fallen man and his culture. More and more, the pagan world disagrees with Voltaire and Eliot and with their sanity. The pagan world more and more wants moral consistency at the expense of its sanity, and it more and more agrees with de Sade and Nietzsche rather than with Voltaire and Eliot. At the end, consistency trumps sanity; and without the restraining hand of God, men savagely go to war against anything that testifies of Him, even if it means their own destruction and the collapse of their own civilization.
Cornelius Van Til called that “epistemological self-consciousness.”
We have talked about morality and ethical systems so far, as a testimony to God and His sovereignty. But His testimony is not limited to the moral realm; it is in everything man knows, in the epistemological realm as well. Just as sound morality and ethics testify of God, man’s ability to know reality and to reason about reality testify of a Supreme Being Who is the Creator of the human mind and the principles of its operation. The very connection between the processes in the human mind and the reality outside is a mystery for the atheists. Why are we capable of observing and understanding reality? Why are we capable of common sense? Why do we have an intuition as to what is correct and what is incorrect? And why do our minds react to dehydration by self-consciously looking for water, and not, for example, for potato chips? What is there that creates that mysterious connection between our bodies and our minds, and between the world outside and our minds? Atheists have no answer to that. And this mystery in itself is a testimony of God. In fact, the whole world, the reality around us is a testimony of God.
And Paul said that the unregenerate man tries to suppress that truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-32).
Therefore, in his war against God, we should expect the unregenerate man – and his institutions – to wage a war against the very reality and the common sense that makes us grasp that reality. For the man to assert his independence against God, he must reject the reality that God has created, and seek for ways to re-create that reality according to his own rules, opposite to common sense. If that means rejecting all logic, then the fallen man will reject all logic just to assert his autonomy. If that means rejecting all common sense, he’ll reject that too. The final goal is not Voltaire’s ordered and ethical world – for such a world would require a God to rule over it, as Voltaire rightly reasoned. The final goal is a world without God, even if it means no common sense, no logic, no order, no morality, no meaning, no purpose whatsoever.
And if that means that a plain common sense truth like the connection between consumption of water and dehydration must be rejected, then it will be rejected. And if “science” needs to be involved, scientists will reject every single rule of their trade, and will get involved on the side of the atheistic state against God. The religious commitment to atheism always trumps sanity. The legislation of the European Union is a testimony that its fall into insanity is complete. Just as it was complete in the last days of the Roman Empire.