Twilight struggle

"Twilight struggle" Continued...

Issue: "Iraq: Bravo Company's story," Aug. 21, 2004

WORLD: What should Christians learn from Nietzsche? What other strong ­opponents of Christianity should ­Christians read?

AM: Nietzsche is a complex writer, who is difficult to summarize neatly. However, one thing that I value particularly in his writings is his nervousness about the implications of his nihilism. In many ways, Nietzsche is best thought of as someone who observes the growth of nihilism, rather than someone who commended it. He was deeply concerned that the growth of this philosophy would erode ethics, and lead to exactly the kind of ethical anarchy that gave rise to Nazism, and which we see in postmodern society. Even postmodernism has difficulties in allowing that Nazism is a good thing! Yet precisely that danger lies there, as evidenced by the celebrated remark of the French atheist writer, Jean-Paul Sartre: "Tomorrow, after my death, certain people may decide to establish Fascism, and the others may be cowardly or miserable enough to let them get away with it. At that moment, Fascism will be the truth of man." We need a firm belief in God as a bulwark and defense against this kind of development-something that remains secure, like the biblical house built on the rock, and is not going to waver with each change in cultural taste.

WORLD: If the ­general appeal of atheism has been the outcome only of a ­specific set of historical circumstances that have now ended, why has atheism been popular among many sets of ­intellectuals in different eras?

AM: Since the early 19th century in many parts of Western culture, atheism has been seen as a form of intellectual protest against unthinking forms of Christianity, as well as against the ideas of the religious and political establishment. Atheism was thus seen, at that time and in those places, as something that was socially progressive and intellectually sophisticated. ­Nowadays, it is widely regarded as stale and outdated, and tends to be favored mainly by older people, whose ideas are still shaped by the beliefs of modernity. Many younger academics still want to be thought of as socially progressive and intellectually sophisticated, but no longer see atheism as fitting that bill. They are much more likely to be "post-atheist," to use a term that is becoming increasingly common as the rejection of atheism gains pace in the West.

WORLD: You note that "Freud is now a fallen idol" and that medical practitioners increasingly emphasize "the importance of spirituality in health care." How will religion play a role in the future of ­psychotherapy and in the future of ­medical practice?

AM: This is a very interesting question. There is a huge volume of research literature suggesting that religious belief can be a very positive factor in determining human well-being. A 2001 survey of 100 evidence-based studies to systematically examine the relationship between religion and human well-being disclosed the ­following (Harold G. Koenig and Harvey J. Cohen. The Link between Religion and Health: Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, page 101): 79 reported at least one positive correlation between religious involvement and well-being; 13 found no meaningful association between religion and well-being; seven found mixed or complex associations between religion and well-being; only 1 found a negative association between religion and well-being. Yet the atheist worldview suggests that there ought to be a strongly, perhaps totally, negative ­association between religion and human well-being. Yet only one percent of the experimental results unequivocally affirm this, and 79 percent equally unequivocally reject it! I'm not saying that this proves that Christianity is true. But I am saying that this makes clear that the basic atheist dogma that faith is bad for you simply cannot be sustained in the light of the growing body of evidence to the contrary.

WORLD: You write that "the most fundamental criticisms directed against Christianity have to do with the moral character of its God, and often focus specifically on the issue of eternal punishment." Do you believe in eternal punishment, and if you do, how do you reconcile this doctrine with the doctrine of a good and loving God?

AM: This is another big question! I see no reason to abandon traditional Christian beliefs, provided that they are well grounded in the Bible. There is no doubt that the Victorian age in particular saw many criticisms directed against some traditional Christian teachings, including eternal punishment. Thus George Eliot and her circle were strongly critical of such ideas, tending to regard them as being either outdated or immoral. I'm afraid that I haven't got the space to deal with the question of how we reconcile eternal punishment with belief in a loving and good God. But what I can say is that we need to be aware that many find these ideas difficult, and so we need to be aware of our need to explain them carefully, and show why we believe them.


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