The Myth of Christian Morality,Nicole Scott,Free Inquiry

Today many nonbelievers accept as a matter of course the presumption of atheism, the position that the idea of a creating god is so fantastical that the burden of proof lies with those who believe in such a being. This position has elicited some aggressive responses. The American philosopher Alvin Plantinga, for example, has claimed that it is reasonable to believe in the existence of a god without any propositional evidence at all because it is “properly basic,” by which he means that such a belief follows naturally from what John Calvin (1509–1564) called the sensus divinitatis, an innate sense of God given to humans (by God, unsurprisingly) to prevent us from “pretending ignorance” of his existence. Plantinga opines that all humans are possessed of a sensus divinitatis, but that in some people it does not function properly because their faculty of reason has been adversely affected by sin. Some readers might find this suggestion an insult to their intelligence and their fundamental human dignity; it is certainly not an argument. Those who, like Plantinga, hold that no argument is necessary will find this no cause for concern, because their belief is that the existence of a supposed entity is proved by the existence of a supposed faculty for perceiving that entity, given to humans by that supposed entity and itself perceivable only by those people who believe that they perceive it. It would be unkind to argue in the same way that claims for the existence of anything at all require arguments to support them because all humans are endowed with a degree of intelligence, but that in some people this intelligence does not function properly because their faculty of reason has been adversely affected by religious belief.

Those believers who do not subscribe to Plantinga’s neo-Calvinist views generally feel constrained to offer some sort of argument to support their convictions. They are thus faced with the task of proving that there are objective moral truths and of proving that God is the best explanation for them. One enormously popular proponent of this view was C. S. Lewis (1898–1963), to this day perhaps the most widely read writer on Christianity in English. He was neither a theologian nor a philosopher but taught English first at the University of Oxford, later at Cambridge. Of course he is most famous for writing, fittingly as some readers might think, a series of fairy-tales titled The Chronicles of Narnia. He was baptized into the Church of Ireland, became an atheist, as he later claimed, and then joined the Anglican church at the age of thirty-two, influenced by his colleague J. R. R. Tolkein, another famous writer of fairy-tales. At any rate, Lewis has an established popular reputation as a nice man, whose utterings are very much admired by ordinary people who are perhaps themselves not particularly erudite but have an unhealthy respect for those who have devoted their lives to books.

Lewis converted to Anglicanism and had all the convert’s enthusiasm, arrogance, and resistance to change, as well as all the other usual prejudices of the intellectual upper-middle class to which he belonged. The masses, to whom he enjoyed giving public lectures, he seems to have regarded as a species of pet: to be treated kindly, lectured to in a condescendingly homiletic style, and deserving of that theoretical love that is one of the hallmarks of Christianity.

Having made these claims, I must now support them with credible evidence. I shall do so by quoting Lewis’s own work; in particular, I shall quote from his Mere Christianity, probably his most popular work apart from the Narnia books.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis seeks to build a case for the belief in a god based on the fact that we have a moral sense and a conscience. The distinction I am making here is between the faculty that enables us to recognize right from wrong and the one that either prevents us from doing wrong or makes us think ill of ourselves when we do. Lewis does not make this distinction, but it is implicit in what he writes. His argument is based on what he calls the Law of Nature, but he excludes humans from what we today think of as the laws of nature, in the sense that though we are bound to them as is everything else, there is another law, the law of human nature, that differs from the laws that govern the physical universe in that it is the only law of nature that we can choose to disobey. According to Lewis, this law of human nature, or moral law, is not ascertainable in the same way as are other laws of nature—the laws of gravity, for example—but we know it is there because we so often feel its effect. We know how we ought to behave and what we ought to do, even if we end up doing the opposite; and we feel, or most of us feel, shame, guilt, or regret when we act immorally. In response to the objection that we behave more or less decently more or less most of the time because we have learned that, if we do, that is how people are likely to behave toward us and that is how communities and societies exist, Lewis has the following to say:

Now, of course, it is perfectly true that safety and happiness can only come from individuals, classes, and nations being honest and fair and kind to each other. It is one of the most important truths in the world. But as an explanation of why we feel [italics added] as we do about Right and Wrong it just misses the point. If we ask: “Why ought I to be unselfish?” and you reply “Because it is good for society,” we may then ask, “Why should I care what’s good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?” and then you will have to say, “Because you ought to be unselfish”—which simply brings us back to where we started. You are saying what is true, but you are not getting any further …

From this he concludes that moral law, the law of human nature as distinct from the physical laws of nature or human instincts, must be “a real thing—a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves,” and this he takes to mean that there must therefore be “something above and beyond the ordinary facts of men’s behavior, and yet quite definitely real—a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us.”

At this point, we can begin to dismantle Lewis’s arguments. First, there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that the distinction between human nature and the nature of the rest of the universe is a valid one. The laws of nature, Lewis says, merely tell us how things behave, while human moral law tells us how we ought to behave. Why should contemplating right and wrong not be classified as an aspect of how humans behave? Lewis cannot allow that our moral sense is an evolved human faculty, because his whole argument rests on the existence of a god without which, he says, we would lack that sense. In fact, it would be surprising if a sense of right and wrong were not an evolved faculty, for it is unlikely our species would have survived if that were not the case. Lewis could easily have claimed that we have an instinct for morality that evolved over time and that God endowed us with it in some “original” form. But for Lewis to have done that would have meant diminishing the special place occupied by humans in the theological universe, the universe of Scripture, in which humans were created knowing right from wrong (though the story in Genesis is confused on this point). Instead, with an unintentional irony that completely escapes him, he sets about belittling all the great good our species has shown itself capable of by insisting that without God we would be unable to act morally at all. This god is “somebody or something from beyond the physical universe,” something “more like a mind than anything we know.” This recalls Leibniz’s idea of a god that exists outside a necessarily finite universe. I suppose we should allow that even in the short time since his death, the physical sciences have advanced further than Lewis could have imagined, but it would not make any real difference because he simply refused to allow that science has any business with this particular aspect of the human experience.

It is reasonable to suppose that the moral sense Lewis was talking about should be exemplified in Scripture, specifically in the words attributed to Jesus and the apostles. Studying these very quickly reveals that the origin and basis of the Christian understanding of right behavior lie not in altruism or in some variety of nebulous spirituality but in the desire for revenge and in absolute subservience to authority. In today’s political and social context, it is these master-slave relations that characterize “morality” as conceived and willingly accepted by much of the population, the religious Right in particular. Acts of the Apostles (1:6–9) is as good a place as any to begin:

When [the Apostles] were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

Here we see the supposed Jesus in one of his most familiar roles: that of the disdainful Statthalter, denying his followers information to which he alone is privy but with a vague promise of a share in power to be granted at some equally vague future time. Indeed, it is power, or information regarding power, that the Apostles seek—the restoration of authority over lands they had previously acquired by scripturally ordained theft and the massacre of those who had occupied them. After a final injunction to global evangelism, Jesus then underscores the relationship between the Apostles and himself by placing himself literally above them, inspired perhaps by Julius Caesar’s success in performing the same ultimate act of self-elevation.

This episode has nothing to do with love, with agape, or with what we would today call spirituality; it has everything to do with solidifying the relationship between master and servants in a form with which we are now familiar and employing the same simple dialectic: the command is to follow and obey without question in return for a share in the power and the restoration of a glorious past.

A well-known example of Jesus’s insistence on subservience to him and on the inferiority of other ethnic groups (a tendency shared by his disciples) is found in Matthew 15:22–28:

And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to castit to dogs.
And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, greatis thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

Apologists like to point out that the Septuagint Greek version has, for “dog,” the word kunarion, implying puppy or pet, rather than kuon, which translates simply as dog without any qualifying attributes or characteristics (as though this translation were somehow less insulting). But Greek was not Matthew’s language; he was a Levi and would have written the Hebrew word k’lev or kelev, if indeed he did write the gospel attributed to him. At any rate, the unknown translator into Greek seems to have been aware of the problem and opted for kunarion. The point is that Jesus initially rejects the Canaanite woman’s plea for help on ethnic grounds, and it is only after her self-abasement before him that he deigns to comply. We note also that the disciples with him, far from encouraging him to cure the woman’s daughter, urge him to rid them of her.

There is another disjunction of the same kind between master and servants at Mark 9:38–39:

And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.
But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.

Here, again, the disciples’ aim is exclusion, and again the motivation is resentment—but also fear. The unnamed worker of miracles has appropriated the alpha-type’s name, and thereby a share in his power, but refuses to join the pack. In this way, he clearly poses a threat to its cohesion—even its necessity, if an outsider is able to assume with impunity one of the responsibilities the disciples had seen as theirs alone as reward for their absolute obedience. Jesus’s response focuses on how the unknown man’s actions will reflect upon himself. The identity of the beneficiary of the supposed miracle is of no interest either to him or to his disciples; he makes clear that his injunction to allow miracles to be performed in his name has nothing to do with any ensuing good to others and everything to do with his own reputation.

The disciples’ need for the unnamed miracle-worker to be prevented from doing further good is, more than anything else, indicative of a fundamental meanness of spirit whose legacy is a “morality” that is petty, cliquish, arrogant, resentful, and above all deeply fearful of human potential, which explains its loathing of scientific progress and reason. It is ignoble and demeaning, and the only way it can hope to survive is by seeking to impose itself on as many people as possible. It is this, rather than any disinterested altruism, that underlies the injunction to evangelize and renders it so insidious a threat to democracy.

Attacking the institution of the church—of whatever denomination—would be overly simple. Its hypocrisy, venality, and frequent criminality make it an easy target. Any such attack inevitably invites the fatuous response that an institution as a whole cannot be blamed for the actions of its individual representatives. More to the purpose here is an examination of the nature of the belief demanded by Christianity and the mentality required to sustain it.

Even a cursory reading of the Old and New Testaments makes clear that the quality to which believers are most strenuously enjoined is “meekness”—a term used rather disingenuously, especially in the New Testament. We might suspect when Paul recommends meekness to the Colossians (3:12), having just addressed them as “the elect of God,” he must know something about meekness that we do not. He does: he knows that it is an attitude he and his co-believers must adopt only temporarily, until God exacts their revenge, in the manner described in Revelation 6:8, upon those who refuse to accept Jesus’s divinity: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

“Meekness,” it turns out, means patiently biding time in expectation of retribution on those who hold different views; though resentment and eagerness for reprisal do sometimes find expression, as in the yearning question “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10).

The words meek or meekness occur thirteen times in the Old Testament, sixteen times in the New, and they are always used to mean either forbearance, as in the examples just seen, or a sinister, masochistic subservience, a dishonest pseudo-humility of the Uriah Heep variety. We can turn to the most famous Evangelist of recent times—the late, and presumably by some lamented, Billy Graham—for further clarification on meekness:

But Jesus also said that there is another kind of spiritual poverty—one we should seek. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). What did He mean? Simply this: We must be humble in our spirits. If you put the word “humble” in place of the word “poor,” you will understand what He meant. In other words, when we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. If we are, God cannot bless us. The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Pride can take all kinds of forms, but the worst is spiritual pride. Often the richer we are in things, the poorer we are in our hearts. Have you faced your own need of Christ? Do you realize that you are a sinner and need God’s forgiveness? Don’t let pride or anything else get in the way, but turn to Christ—in humility and faith—and He will bless you and save you.

Nobody would accept this sickening directive to self-abnegation if he or she did not believe that he or she would one day have the whip hand over those who enjoy a healthy self-respect, who act morally without need of a tortuous construct of injunctions and proscriptions built upon fear, and who choose human dignity over voluntary enslavement.

The hypocrisy of this particular brand of religious fundamentalism lies in its profession of meekness while it is in fact based on the exclusion of otherness: only those who submit will be treated humanely and “saved.” It is a fundamentalism founded on the idea of guilt for disobedience—Israel is punished for not acting according to God’s decrees—now projected onto those whose dignity and independence (“spiritual pride”) is perceived as the rejection of what is in fact an oppressive tradition of male-dominated hierarchies, posing as morality, that instinctively—necessarily—regards modern liberal democracy as “evil.” It follows that disease and natural disasters are proclaimed by fundamentalists to be divine punishment for “aberrant” behavior or for any utterance that points out the abysmal ignorance and stupidity of their beliefs. When, for example, the late journalist and well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens announced that he was dying of cancer, he received from some of these devout and meek Christians hate-mail expressing precisely this view—sometimes with the added hope, born of the same evangelical loving-kindness, that his death be as lingering and painful as possible. This should not come as a surprise.

There are only two biblical episodes in which Jesus undertakes to lecture on morality: the Sermon on the Mount, which occurs at Matthew 5–7; and the Sermon on the Plain at Luke 6:17–49, which is in effect a condensed version of the former. Both exemplify the other underlying motivation to “morality” in the Christian understanding, that which coexists with the desire for revenge and the willing subordination to authority we have already seen. Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount is right behavior commended for its own sake. Nowhere is it suggested that attending to the needs of others is simply the right thing to do. Instead, exhortations to good actions are accompanied either by a threat of punishment or a promise of reward.

Matthew 5 is a mixed bag. The first two verses are authorial scene-setting; these are followed by eight short sentences praising specific attributes. They are worth looking at in detail:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Verses 7 and 9 differ from the others in that they refer to activities not necessarily associated with the idea of a divinity or an afterlife, though they are made so here. The others are in fact all variations on the same theme—the key terms are poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, and righteousness. The first three are the same thing. Believers might claim that to be pure in heart means to be free of sin generally, but the purity to which people are here enjoined is the meekness, the poverty of spirit we have already seen, the complete self-subjection to authority, and denial of independent thought, in particular the denial of our ability to make decisions for ourselves about right behavior. This willing enslavement is what is meant by “righteousness” and is commended with the promise of reward. We shall soon see, however, that the idea of righteousness is not limited to the spiritual; rather, it becomes a means of division: there are the righteous who are to be saved, while the rest of us are to be singled out for punishment. This is the revenge for which the meek so ardently yearn.

At verse 11, a change occurs. It is easy to overlook but very important:

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Here the focus has shifted from God, from the kingdom of heaven, to the person of Jesus himself; we learn, almost as a parenthetical afterthought, that persecution is to be endured “for [his] sake.” In this way, Jesus establishes himself as the sine qua non of “righteousness” and sole moral arbiter as God’s deputy on earth. What his hearers are being told is that they cannot be truly moral—and that they will therefore incur divine wrath and punishment—unless they acknowledge his authority.

From then on up to verse 16, to underline the point or perhaps to make it more palatable, his hearers are told that if they accept him as God’s representative as he tells them they should, they shall be the “salt of the earth,” the “light of the world,” that their reward in heaven will be great, and so on—the usual encouragements. After this, he embarks upon a discourse on several points of the laborious edifice of bronze-age religious laws governing temple sacrifice, sexual behavior, and relations with siblings. The manner in which he delivers the pronouncements reveals him as a hysterical proto-puritan extremist who would not only have the laws enforced to a nicety but would also extend them to include thought-crime, demanding of his followers that they be quite literally holier-than-thou:

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus bore a particular grudge against the scribes and Pharisees because, not unreasonably, they scrutinized his teachings. They were legal experts and likely challenged his behavior and his interpretation of Jewish law. They would certainly have found the following unacceptable:

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

This kind of fanaticism, which claims that an immoral thought is as reprehensible as its corresponding immoral deed, was later enthusiastically espoused by that other well-known fanatic, Sir Thomas More, who was in favor of religious persecution and burning at the stake, and later still by the Stasi and similar organizations of control and torture. For this exemplary meekness, More was elevated to sainthood.

The most important part of the continuation of the sermon, chapter six, is its summing-up in the final four verses:

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Again we see the divisive nature of this so-called “moral” instruction: the call to reject worldly concerns has as much to do with the wish to be seen as different from, and of course better than, the “gentiles” as it has with asceticism. Believers are fond of pointing to these verses as proof that the essence of Jesus’s moral teaching is the subordination of the worldly to the spiritual, and of course that personal subordination to God (through Jesus alone) will induce God—this is after all a god who seems very much to need inducement—to take care of all our other needs, doubtless a huge comfort to the poor and the homeless, and certainly a comfort to those good Christians who regard poverty and homelessness as the fault of the poor and the homeless themselves. But the claim for spirituality is disingenuous or at best the result of ignorance of the texts on which Christianity is based. The overriding imperative here is that we should “give no thought to the morrow”—that we should forget all obligations, all moral duties to family and friends, all concern to provide for our children and for their future, that we should dismiss any promises we have made, any agreements or contracts we have entered into—to follow a deluded narcissist who seriously believes he is second only to God. It remains for us to ask by what species of courtesy this vile and wicked doctrine can be considered moral teaching at all.

Oddly enough, it was C. S. Lewis who pointed out that someone who promotes the recklessness demanded by “give no thought to the morrow” must be either insane or absolutely convinced that the world is about to come to an end. And now we arrive at it, the aspiration to which the whole of Christian “moral” teaching is ultimately directed and for which it is intended as a preparation: the violent end of humanity at the hands of a capricious god, with salvation of the faithful and the perdition of everyone else, as described with relish in the Book of Revelation. It is for this reason that persecution by non-Christians is so readily welcomed. Turning the other cheek serves a dual function: it demonstrates willingness to suffer for the sake of faith in Jesus, but it also ensures that the aggressor is marked for punishment when the day of reckoning finally arrives. This equates to revenge by proxy. “Revenge is mine, saith the Lord,” but the Lord saith nothing about it being forbidden to take pleasure in the contemplation of that revenge being enacted.

Believers insist on what they like to think of as the altruistic nature of Christian moral teaching. They can only do so by ignoring those aspects we have just been discussing. Given the indisputable fact that right behavior is, in the teachings ascribed to Jesus, enjoined by means of either threats or rewards, it is unsurprising that believers claim altruism is their “Christian duty.” Indeed they must, for if they were to acknowledge that there are those of us who are capable of altruistic behavior without being threatened or cajoled into it, they would then have to acknowledge that there is little point to their faith in the first place. Of course, the use of the word duty is also a way of making the threats seem less: once believers have accepted subservience and obedience, they can tell themselves that they are safe, that their ticket to a glorious afterlife is secured. To suggest that duty should be rewarded is uncontroversial. But there remains the constant confusion of motives. Are believers saying of themselves that they are altruistic, if indeed they are, solely because they fear punishment? Few of them would answer this in the affirmative. (At least we should like to think that this were so, but one never knows.) But at the same time, they insist that altruism is their Christian duty; they have to treat others well because they are Christians. This is clearly a direct contradiction of the idea that right behavior in Christian moral teaching is not connected to fear. It simply will not do, and we are justified in suspecting that the people we are talking about here are essentially ignorant of the texts they regard as sacred, certainly insofar as any close reading or genuine interpretation is concerned.

Let us be very clear: the adherence to a set of rules based on belief in the supernatural does not constitute morality; rather, it constitutes obedience. It requires no thought, no genuine care for the needs of others, no empathy, no love, and no consideration of the consequences of our actions beyond the consequences for ourselves. Moral behavior is a human, not a religious, duty. Again: the religious cannot accept this because to do so immediately makes clear the pointlessness of religion.

What Christianity requires of its believers is ultimately that they despise the world. The following from 1 John 2:15–16 gives some insight into this:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

In the first verse above, John makes clear that we are faced with a stark choice: relinquish the world or relinquish God. This is an odd thing to say about God’s supposed creation. The response to this objection is contained in the following verse, but what it tells us is that for John the world represents sensuality and physical beauty—“lust of the eyes,” to which he clearly has a perverse and sinister relationship—and pride. If this is all John sees in the world, then it is unsurprising that he doesn’t much like it. Like all puritanical fanatics, he forms an opinion based on a misreading born of bitterness and resentment (and, we are tempted to think, a secret desire to indulge in precisely the pleasures he so bitterly reviles), and then seeks to impose his misreading on others. It does not occur to him that others do not necessarily suffer from his distorted view of the world, and he is evidently incapable of seeing normal sexual relations as anything other than “lust” or of appreciating beauty for its own sake in a normal, healthy way. This is the “moral” teaching of a sour and jaundiced man who, because he is incapable of understanding their true nature, would have everyone reject all the good and beautiful things of the world and hold all humanity’s achievements as nothing.

This includes intellectual achievements—this, as we know, still holds today: that the fundamentalist religious hate learning. So it was for Paul also: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Philosophy, whose interest and goal is the truth, is necessarily rejected as “vain deceit” that will “spoil” us, by which Paul means that philosophy will provide us with a rational understanding of the world and instill in us a sense of human dignity rather than the emasculating serfdom demanded by Christianity. Paul, too, is incapable of understanding that it is the sense of human dignity, of human potential for good, unrelated to the dictates of any celestial despot, that engenders just behavior and leads us to deal with our fellow human beings as equals worthy of respect, indeed to treat them with that loving kindness that throughout its history of bigotry and violence Christianity has on the whole been rather slow in demonstrating.

For whom is this abnegation, this denial of the necessity of care for worldly things, appropriate? For whom the ignorance of all books but one? Not for those of us who refuse to relinquish our responsibilities to friends and family; not for those of us who think of independent, rational thought not as “pride” but as a means to making right moral choices, to making a life, a valid and dignified one, in this vale of tears. The only ones for whom a life such as that receives scriptural recommendation can be considered appropriate are those who hide behind the walls of monasteries and abbeys, from whose safety—removed from hardship, hunger, and vicissitude, frequently living as parasites on the naive generosity of the gullible who as often as not have little enough for themselves—they have the arrogance and cynicism to tell us that dominus providebit, the Lord will provide, and lecture us on how to deal with a world of which they know nothing. Truly these can afford to give no thought to the morrow. For shame.

Christianity is in the final analysis a death cult. The whole of Christian ethics is based on the desire that the world should come to an end, and for this reason the sole purpose of life is to prepare for that event, a process of point-collecting, of doing whatever is necessary to avoid incurring the wrath of a vindictive god who, like a spoiled child denied a toy, destroys not only it but everything else it cannot have.

Today many nonbelievers accept as a matter of course the presumption of atheism, the position that the idea of a creating god is so fantastical that the burden of proof lies with those who believe in such a being. This position has elicited some aggressive responses. The American philosopher Alvin Plantinga, for example, has claimed …