[An essay on the logical implications of one's worldview on morality]
I recently had a discussion with a young atheist who could not believe in God because of all the pain and suffering in the world. In particular he pointed out child abuse and the death of innocents as a key stumbling block. I pointed out that without God, he had no basis to call such things "evil", since there is no evil in a materialist framework, only personal values and opinions. He had no clear answer to this, other than to say that he did value moral goodness, and he did believe that children are necessary even in an atheist worldview for the "continuation of the species". I simply retorted that he had no basis for such values from within his worldview, and he had to "back door" such values into his system from Christianity. Then we moved on with the discussion…
Today, I ran across an article about Richard Dawkins commenting on how he thought that religion was "child abuse" (especially telling children that they may die and go to hell). Of course, this is all begging the question of whether or not there is a hell. If there is a hell, isn't it child abuse NOT to warn people about it? And, if hell (or heaven, for that matter) is a trans-dimensional reality outside of our universe, as most theistic religions claim, wouldn't empirical science be powerless to discover it, since the only tools empiricism has are those which deal with this material universe? But, I digress…
In pondering the moral flaws of materialist atheism, and thinking about the issue of child abuse, a thought occurred to me: Atheism is completely compatable with child abuse. In fact, it is the perfect philosophy to validate the abuse of those weaker than ourselves. This is not to say that atheists are child abusers in a greater percentage than other religious adherents. This is because they back-door Christian moral assumptions into their system without giving an adequate basis for such morality. Another way to say this is to say that, as people made in God's image, they cannot help reflecting God's goodness in some ways, even though they deny his reality.
But, when taken as a logical system, atheism is the perfect system to validate the abuse of children (even if very few push it to its logical extreme). Most, if not all atheists, ground their moral concepts ultimately in the "good" of the individual person. What counts as "good" is ultimately utilitarian (i.e. actions are only good which act as instruments to produce personal pleasure or satisfaction, along with health and the extension of life). Furthermore, what counts as "evil" or "bad" are those things that harm personal pleasure and health, and go against our "instinct of self-preservation".
Now, children, of all creatures, are most unable to defend themselves from abuse, or put forward sufficient force to harm or destroy an attacker. Thus, they have no power to retaliate and harm this "instinct of self-preservation" put forward by atheists. The use and abuse of a child (or a disabled person, or someone significantly weaker than yourself) carries no inherent consequence which would harm someone. There may be imposed consequences from society, but these aren't necessary in a "perfect atheist world". We will discuss this more later, but it is sufficient to notice that in a framework without God and absolute justice, a child may be used for personal pleasure without causing self-harm. This is different from actions that inherently cause self harm, no matter how much immediate pleasure they bring about (doing heroin comes to mind).
Thus, if an atheist gains pleasure from the use and abuse of children, there should be no moral objection for it from their moral perspective. In fact, there should only be approval, since it is morally good (in the atheist framework) to do what pleases oneself and extends health and vitality.
There is no negative consequence inherent IN the act of child abuse (as there is, in say, doing drugs, or attacking someone who can retaliate). By the sheer nature of doing such acts of violence against other powerful, intelligent beings, personal existence and well-being probably will be harmed. But there is no such inherent consequence for abusing someone so much less powerful than yourself. In fact, the only consequence for such an action is indirect and external to the act, in the form of police action (i.e. punishing child-abusers as criminals). But, the presuppositions that lead society to punish child abuse cannot be drawn from a materialist utilitarian moral philosophy.
The only reason why a society should outlaw child abuse is if there is a clear moral reason for having children and raising them well. This is because part of raising MY child well will be to stop others (and myself) from abusing her. So, if it is logical to value raising children well, it is logical to create a society which protects children. And thus, not only is MY child protected, but all children are protected. Yet, the idea that we should become parents, and we should raise children well (and thus not abuse them), cannot derive from an atheist moral philosophy.
In fact, it is contrary to it, because the bearing of children is frequently harmful to personal health (possibly negating one's own existence). And the raising of children is painful on many occasions (and can result in the spending of personal resources to raise the child which could better be used for personal pleasure or extension of life). Thus, there is no good moral reason for having children and raising them well, and many reasons not to (in a coherent atheist framework). And because there is no moral reason to raise kids well, there is no reason to protect them (in fact, there may be a better reason to eliminate them if it will free up more resources for my pleasure and health!). Therefore there is no reason to stop child abuse.
Furthermore, the idea that any weak beings (i.e. children, the disabled, and anyone weaker than we are) are actually persons, and actually have some instrinsic value apart from what we can use them for, and actually deserve to be protected, cannot be gained from an atheist moral philosophy. This is for several reasons:
1. Most atheists tell some tired version of the idea that we should care about the "protection of our species", and thus we have children to extend the race. But, this is just ludicrous and self-contrdictory from an atheist perspective. For one thing, we simply will cease to exist at death and have no reason to care if there is anything else after we die. We may be inbed with a "species survival instinct" in our genes or in our sub-conscious, but this species survival instinct actually hinders our personal well-being. It causes us to have and raise kids, which is problematic and contradictory to our own good (as I noted above). It also causes us to sacrifice our well-being, and even our lives, to help others. As far as personal pleasure and health go, we should eradicate and destroy this instinct because it causes us to do things that are against our best interest. Only the weak- in an atheist framework- can be guided by the idea of "species survival".
The human race will die out. The universe will die out. All people become moot at their personal death, and all things are rendered ultimately moot by the death of the universe. They are all "sound and fury signifying nothing" if the atheist is right about the world. A truly honest materialist can only logically care for one thing: Their own pleasure and health. The coherent atheist realizes that there is no "us", only "me", and "you" only exist as a means to benefit my well-being, and "you" are completely worthless when you cease to benefit me.
I know atheists who DO care about others, but they do so irrationally, and against the clear ramifications of the worldview they espouse. They care for the Earth, for their children, and for moral goodness, but they do not have a reason "why" (other than the clearly faulty idea that they should extend the existence of the human race).
But, any argument that it is morally good to preserve "us" (our race, our civilization, our world) cannot be based on a materialistic universe. It has to be brought in back-door from a Theistic moral source that says that the world and the people in it are inherently valuable because they were created so by a Creator.
2. But, since we are talking about honest, consistent atheism, where there is no "us", and only "me", we have to say that anything which gets in the way of pleasure and health should be stopped. Now, the stopping of some of these things- even in an atheist system- is problematic to pleasure and health. For instance, trying to kill people who try to hinder you from fulfilling your desires could likely result in your own death or injury, even if there was no police force to stop you (due to the "law of the jungle").
So, instead of killing them, you pursue a relational calculus, using negotiation and deception and compromise, to get us much as you can from them, while giving as little as you can of yourself. But, this only applies to dealing with other persons who are at least as powerful and as intelligent as you are. What if they are considerably weaker and they stand in your way? What if their non-existence would ultimately further your own pleasure and health? It would be "morally good" to get rid of them to attain your own bliss. Furthermore, it would be irrational, even morally evil (in the atheistic framework) NOT to do so (because to leave them alive would drain precious resources which could benefit you).
3. Finally, in such an atheistic framework, anything that causes pleasure and health should be pursued. If, for whatever reason, what pleases you most is sexual gratification from children then (in a coherent atheist position) it should be done. If what pleases you most is causing physical pain to the disabled, then you should do so. If you can grow children to be organ donors to further your life, you should do so. In fact, to NOT do any of these things- assuming it is what "turns you on"- would be immoral and evil in a coherent atheist framework.
4. And, if we are going to create a society that will maximize our personal "good", by furthering our own pleasure and health- without reference to any fictions of "preserving the race" or any other kind of irrational altruism- then we should abolish legal systems that are based on immoral values (i.e. laws which preserve the rights of the weak, and hinder the pursuit of personal pleasure and health). This is because, unless you make all of the laws to benefit yourself by controlling others, it is best to abolish all laws and systems of social control which stop you from using others to get what you want. The more you abolish, the freer you are to pursue your own "good".
Now, this kind of society scares the hell out of most people, atheists included, but it is perfectly logically consistent with the ramifications of atheist morality. The only reason to favor social controls which stop the powerful from abusing the weak is because you fear that you are one of the weak ones who should have their pleasure and health protected. So, you give up some of your immediate power and pleasure to the "state" to protect you, and ensure your pleasure and health in the long run.
But, this is the weakling position. And while it may be a perfectly logical moral position for the weak person in an atheist worldview, for the strong person, it is not acceptable. If they possess the power to dominate others and use them for their own ends, they should abolish all social structures and strictures which stop them from actualizing and maximizing their own pleasure and health. In a coherent atheist framework, the best society is the one in which the most powerful have the most complete dominance over those who pleasure them. The only sin is to be too weak to pursue whatever you want.
Thus, the coherent atheist who rationally cares about his own self-interest will work for a "good" society that does not stop the strong from using the weak. The coherent atheist will work for the repeal of social systems that allow the weak to live and leech off of the well-being of the strong. The coherent atheist will applaud child abuse as an entirely proper use of one's own power to gain personal gratification. Finally, the coherent atheist cannot help but applaud a society in which all weaklings- children, slaves, women, the handicapped- are used simply as means to personal benefit, or eliminated altogether when they cease to be a benefit.
Now, I give hearty congratulations to incoherent atheists everywhere who do not live like this. It shows a sign that their souls have not yet become a wasteland and a haunt of demons. But, the logical implications of atheism lead naturally, intrinsically, and compulsively to a moral system where the strong uses and abuses the weak for their own self-interest.
Which is real child abuse? Is it teaching a child that God has made them in His image, that all people are loved and valued as God's own children, and that we should unconditionally love and protect every person, especially the weak? Or, is it teaching them that the only person they can really care for is themselves, and the only reason they have to live is pursue pleasure and power to keep on existing? Which will most logically bring about a world that we want to bear and raise children in?
So, does atheism cause child abuse? Logically, yes. Practically, no. But, if we want a world where love really rules, and everyone is cared for, we will need to adopt the moral teaching of Christ, regardless of whether we acknowledge His Reality. May all Christians live lives consistent with what they say they believe, and may all atheists live lives inconsistent with that they say they believe. Amen.